For the past couple years I’ve worked hard at getting into the best shape I’ve been in in decades. In fact, many of us at Gemba Academy have, and we have a wellness program that encourages and rewards positive efforts toward physical, spiritual, and emotional health. In my case I’ve been very conscious of what I eat, and I exercise every day with crossfit classes, personal strength training, running on the beach, and yoga for stretching and balance. As I enter my 50s I’ve been particularly focused on working those smaller muscles that create balance as falling is one of the top dangers for the age group I’m approaching.
A month or so ago I was getting an itch for a bit of a change. Crossfit has a lot of variety, but after over a year it was becoming routine. I needed a different angle to stay motivated. Coincidentally the owner of the small gym I had been taking classes at had been looking for a way to differentiate himself from the other small gyms, and as an avid surfer in our very popular surf town, created a specialty “Surf Fitness” series of classes. I’m a very occasional surfer, probably more of a surfer wannabe, but I still thought, “why not?” The owner warned me it was a bit more intense than the classes I had been taken, but after over a year of a lot of exercise and now being able to run several miles, how hard could it be?
Hard. After that first 6am Monday class, I hurt, bad. The next day I hurt worse. Like I haven’t hurt in over a year. Where did these hidden muscles come from? I thought I had been working everything.
The difference was due to a change in perspective. The previous classes and workouts focused on traditional, even stances to provide stability while lifting, jumping, and so forth. In the surf fitness classes the traditional exercises were modified to align with the unbalanced, offset, uneven movements found in surfing.
One example was the modification of burpees and pop ups, common (and already potentially brutal) exercises in almost any class, to be intentionally uneven and with asymmetric rotation – which would get you yelled at in a traditional class. When popping up on a surfboard to catch a wave, you push hard with your arms in a narrow width to hold on to the board rails, further back than a traditional pushup or pop up, and jump your feet between them. Your right is in front at a different angle than the left in back, while leaning forward and then back while rotating. The “goofy foot pop up” in surfer parlance, shown in the video below.
Analogous modifications were made to other traditional exercises and stretches, and muscles were moved and strained in ways they weren’t used to.
A similar modification of perspective is often necessary to create meaningful change. Just like I experienced with exercising, it can be surprising and painful, especially when you are under the delusion that you’re already pretty good. Consider a traditional organization that starts out on the lean journey, learns how to identify waste, and suddenly sees waste everywhere in an operation. The challenge appears insurmountable, and the only effective way to manage it is to start taking small steps and creating small experiments, kaizen, always moving toward an ultimate goal of perfection. Unfortunately many organizations try to minimize the pain, rather than continuing to exercise the muscles let alone changing how they are exercising the muscles, and their lean journey comes to an end.
Organizations that truly embrace the journey understand that the challenge only increases even as they improve, and that represents the inherent opportunity of lean and continuous improvement. You never truly arrive, you have never already “done lean.” You just find more and more opportunities for improvement, more changes to make, more experiments to run, and more failures to learn from. Just as people who embrace exercise learn to love the ongoing dull ache of their muscles as they add weight or different movements because they know it means they are increasing endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Perseverance, leadership, change, and acceptance of occasional hurt lead to improvement.