Improvement is good; we all want it. Whether it’s Continuous Improvement (CI), where goodness, however defined, is improved incrementally and continually, or Discontinuous Improvement (DI), where goodness is improved radically and steeply, we want it. But, it’s not enough to want it.
How do we create the Improvement Mindset, where the desire to make things better is a way of life? The traditional non-answer goes something like this: “Well, you know, a lot of diverse factors have to come together in a holistic way to make it happen. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction.” Crap. If I had to pick the secret ingredient that truly makes a difference it’s this:
People with the courage to see things as they are.
People who can hold up the mirror and see warts as warts and problems as problems – they’re the secret ingredient. No warts, no improvement. No problems, no improvement. And I’m not talking about calling out the benign problems. I’m talking about the deepest, darkest, most fundamental problems, problems some even see as strengths, core competencies, or even as competitive advantage. Problems so fundamental, and so wrong, most don’t see them, or dare see them.
The best-of-the-best can even acknowledge warts they themselves created. Big medicine. It’s easy to see warts or problems in others’ work, but it takes level 5 courage to call out the ugliness you created. Nothing is off limits with these folks, nothing left on the table. Wide open, no-holds-barred, full frontal assault on the biggest, baddest crap your company has to offer. It’s hard to do. Like telling a mother her baby is ugly – it’s one thing to think the baby is ugly, but it’s another thing altogether to open up your mouth and acknowledge it face-to-face, especially if you’re the father. (Disclaimer: To be clear, I do not recommend telling your spouse your new baby is ugly. Needless to say, some things MUST be left unsaid.)
It’s not always easy to be around the courageous souls willing to jeopardize their careers for the sake of improvement. And it takes level 5 courage to manage them. But, if you want your company to contract a terminal case of the Improvement Mindset, it’s a price you must pay.
Dr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.