The so-called broken window theory comes to us by way of the criminology world.
The theory asks us to consider a building with broken windows. It goes on to state that if these windows are not repaired, vandals are far more likely to come along and break additional windows.
Then, unsatisfied with this, these misfits may ultimately decide to break into the building for more severe crime (theft, arson, etc.).
Conversely, proponents of the broken window theory claim that by fixing all the broken windows vandals are less likely to smash any windows, much less break into the building and burn it down!
Not Just Windows
The theory is not limited to broken windows. It can easily extend to trash on a sidewalk, or graffiti on the side of a building. Clean things up, broken window theory advocates say, and crime will plummet.
In 1985, George Kelling, author of the book Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities was brought to New York City to put this theory to test.
Initially, graffiti vandalism was targeted. When they saw it they cleaned it off. If they came back the next day, and more graffiti had magically appeared, they cleaned it off again. This battle of wills went on for several years.
Rudy in Charge
A few years later, then Mayor Rudy Giuliani took this theory to another level as he implemented a zero tolerance attack on things like subway fare evasion and the squeegee men who cleaned your car windows and demanded payment. Interestingly enough, crime rates fell in dramatic fashion once these “broken windows” were addressed.
As with anything in life, the broken window theory has its skeptics. Opponents say the fact crime fell after these changes were implemented is more a case of correlation than of causation. One may never know for sure but I tend to side with the broken window theory believers.
A recent trip to Old Navy in the Houston area reinforced my belief in this theory… but I will save that for another post later this week!
Just Like Continuous Improvement
So what does this have to do with the continuous improvement mindset?
Well, I contend that while there may not be many broken windows (at least I hope not) in the factories, hospitals, or office buildings we work in… there are many other broken aspects we could attend to.
When you see an empty Styrofoam coffee cup on a desk, do you leave it there or throw it away? When you see a pallet jack outside it’s taped off area, do you correct it or walk on by? When you notice standard work not being followed on a Friday afternoon at 4:55 PM, do you act on it or leave it until Monday?
You see, broken windows are all around us. The question is… what are we doing about it?
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