Mr. Obama, who held his first cabinet meeting Monday, has tasked officials with finding $100 million in savings. Asked by reporters after the meeting if that amount is a drop in the bucket of the government’s budget, Mr. Obama said “it is.”
“Cumulatively, they make an extraordinary difference because they set the tone,” he said, adding that “pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money.”
A hundred million dollars here, another hundred million there, pretty soon it’s real money… even in Washington D.C. The quote above is from an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week in which Obama Tells Cabinet to Trim Spending.
Anyone who has left water dripping into a bucket overnight will realize that this expression doesn’t do justice to the power of water continuously falling into a bucket, one drop at a time. The optimist thinks “It’s just a drop in the bucket – no big deal.” The pessimist thinks “It’s just a drop in the bucket – it’s not nearly enough.” The person with the kaizen mindset thinks “It’s a drop in the bucket – just keep it dripping!”
At the Justice Department, converting the publication of judicial forfeiture notices from newspapers to the Internet is expected to save $6.7 million over five years. The Veterans Affairs Department expects to save nearly $18 million by canceling or delaying 26 conferences. The Department of Agriculture expects to save $62 million over 15 years by combining 1,500 employees from seven locations into one. The Education Department, meanwhile, says it can save almost $7 million by having workers share computer printers with more of their colleagues.
None of these sound like kaizen – truly creative breakthroughs in process innovation, but rather just cuts in obvious wastes – but they are first steps towards that. Just as you can’t really begin to organize your workplace for productivity before you have made it safe and done away with those things you do not need (the first steps of 5S), it may take a series of these “trim spending” exercises to get people’s eyes focused on waste within government. In fact sometimes it takes cuts like the $7 million from shared printers and computers to “put the squeeze” on temporarily to get people thinking about whether they really need to print or copy something. Then creative thinking can begin.
Going to the ocean is always a humbling experience. What we call the ocean is not one thing but an unbelievably complex world within a world. There is a vast amount of water. We don’t yet fully understand the variety of life forms within the ocean. We don’t understand how Hot Pools, El Nino and other oceanic effects have on weather and climate. The corrosive power of salt and the bleaching power of the sun remind us of impermanence. The ceaseless going and coming of tides teach us about persistence.
The uncountable grains of sand on the beach boggle the mind. There are also stones on the beach who can testify to the power of the continuous drop of water.
What’s $572 billion? It’s nothing more than a bunch of pennies, and countable at that. Our leaders just need to start setting the example by picking them up, one penny at a time. This is a new habit that will take practice, learning by dong. Where will they find these millions or billions of pennies? Well, they can by taking a field trip to the beach. There’s plenty of sand to practice with, and in comparison picking up the big shiny pennies one by one will seem easy.