The continuous improvement mindset suggests that small changes over time eventually add up to big changes. Examples are plentiful for this principle, but of course there are exceptions to the rule. Small trumps big almost every time.
Not many people have been successful turning their entire lives around in a single day. George Costanza is the poster boy for big (some prefer “stocky”) change. This clip from Seinfeld’s Opposite George episode is classic on so many levels.
Professionally, Opposite George can be a great teacher for change. When I teach continuous improvement to others, I show this clip and challenge the group to get out of their comfort zones and try new things. “Try being opposite George for a day.”
I am currently reading Matt May’s new book, Winning the Brain Game, and was happy to see Matt call out Opposite George as an inspiration to naming a technique he calls “Opposite World.” An exercise that helps you flip your thinking on end to see things from a new and fresh perspective – just what you need when trying to solve a problem and you are battling with Fixation. (One of the 7 fatal flaws of thinking in Mays new book).
Thank you George for leading a revolution in opposition.
This post was originally published in January, 2011
There are so many things the company is doing to keep their culture alive and growing. One thing that really stood out throughout the book was Tony’s humility when it comes to talking about Zappos. He said they didn’t pioneer anything new with the Zappos culture, they just applied what they learned from others, such as reading Good to Great and Tribal Leadership. They put the research that is available to all of us, to work at Zappos.
It is also evident that Tony’s previous experience, the mother of all learning, played a large role in building the Zappos brand.
One solid takeaway from Delivering Happiness — for all the continuous improvement buffs out there: In chapter 6 Tony talks about Continuous Incremental Improvement (which by the way was #25 on Zappos’ initial list of 37 core values).
“So the challenge to everyone is this: make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better reflect our core values. The improvements don’t have to be dramatic. It can be as simple as adding an extra sentence or two to a form to make it more fun, for example. But if every employee made just one small improvement every week, to better reflect our core values, then by the end of this year we will have over 50,000 small changes that collectively will be a very dramatic improvement compared to where we are today.”
Continuous improvement is about the small stuff: consistent improvements from everyone. Matt Wrye at Beyond Lean finds the Lean parallels in the Zappos core values.
One last thought from the book. Forget what you learned about networking. Tony says to stop trying to network in the traditional sense. Build lasting relationships instead. Then in 2-3 years something might become of the relationship. The Huffington Post posted a snippet about Tony’s networking philosophy.
So there you have it. Improve continually and build relationships. If only we did these two things we would be on the path to greatness. But more importantly, we would surely be happy.
Towards the end the Hobbit part one, Gandalf is speaking with Galadriel and he pontificates of the greatness that small things can bring…
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.
As an improvement practitioner, I have seen that business leaders often think like Saruman… it is only a great project or idea that can keep this company growing… but I, like Gandalf, have found the opposite to be true.
Lesson: Don’t ignore the Hobbitses in your work and life.
Rule #7 caught my eye as a lean practitioner…
Always be moving forward.
“…Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small improvements eventually result in huge advantages.”
Thank you Bob.
And Thank you Masaaki Imai, John Wooden, Bob Wiley, Tony Hsieh, Ed Catmull, Van Gogh and and many others…who each believe in the same tenet; small is the new big. Funny thing though, it’s not so new.
Great acts are made up of small deeds. -Lao Tzu