How to achieve great things by tweaking

Getting from here to there can often seem like too big a journey; the eventual goal seems so far off that it is difficult to know where to start.  Over the past years in the organisation that I am a part of we have seen a huge amount of progress as a result of tweaking.  This might seem like a strange thing to say, or even that there is not a lot of evidence to show that it is successful.  However, this way of operating is also known as Kaizen, which is Japanese for ‘improving’ or ‘change for the better’ a methodology which focuses on continual improvement.

Kaizen is perhaps most famously a part of the operating system used by Toyota which has enabled them to become the world’s biggest car manufacturer.  Others use it too, and not just in the automotive industry.  For more information about Kaizen see the Wikipedia entry.

For us is has meant continually tweaking everything that we do.  Examples include constant, but relatively small, upgrades to our technology and the introduction of checklists and other changes in work flows.  Though these things might not seem like much, as we look back we realise the huge progress that we have made.

For this approach to work it is important to understand two key things.  First, constant reflection and analysis are required.  If we are not able to be critical in evaluating what we are doing, then we will never identify ways that we can do it better.  Second, the mantra of ‘if it ani’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the enemy of excellence.  Something might not be broken, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be made better.  The only time you should not fix something is if it cannot be made any better.

A similar, but not identical, idea to this comes from Jim Collins in his book Great by Choice and mentioned in this post.  In looking at those companies who succeeded even in uncertain times, one common theme he saw emerging was that they took disciplined steps forward; never over-stretching themselves, but never under-stretching either.  He named the concept the 20-mile march after the approach taken by Amundsen in racing for the South Pole.  Whatever the weather, and in contrast to Scott’s team, he and his team did 20 miles each day, no more and no less.

Are you daunted by the task in front of you or does the goal seem too far away?  If so, start out 20-mile marching, continually tweaking and improving and you will get there sooner than you think.

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