The last decade has, without question, been the most transformative time of my life – personally and professionally. To be sure, I’ve made more mistakes than I can count…but with these mistakes have come valuable lessons. Here are ten things I’ve learned:
1. Be kind
If you want to change the world for the better, start by being kinder. Kindness is a choice. You can choose to be friendly to the grocery store cashier or you can choose to stare at your phone and grunt when they ask how you’re doing.
Mother Teresa’s life was a perfect example of this. She once said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
2. Be helpful
The late Zig Ziglar summed this up best when he said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
We CI folks often throw around phrases like “servant leadership” but, in the end, it really boils down to one thing: be helpful. Help others, and never stop. If you stay focused on helping others your personal success is far more likely.
3. Be grateful
This one is backed by science! Grateful people are happier people. Most of us are blessed beyond belief.
I was recently reminded of this when my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes lost their American college football playoff game to Clemson (it was a fumble and score!). My 13-year-old son, who is officially obsessed with the Buckeyes, literally wept on the couch when the game ended. It was as if his entire family had been lost in a tragic car accident.
The lesson was simple. If watching your favorite sports team lose is a tragic event, you have a lot to be grateful for. And while I’m not always successful, I do my best to reflect daily on all the things I am grateful for. I highly recommend you do the same if you don’t already.
4. Build virtuous habits
The book Atomic Habits is without question one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. It launched me into a practice of daily habit formation and tracking. I now track nine habits that range from flossing my teeth to daily spiritual exercise. The only way to change your life for the better is to develop strong virtuous habits while also working to break damaging habits.
5. Choose not to be harmed
Another game changing book for me was The Obstacle Is the Way, which explained how powerful Stoicism can be.
While the Stoics taught us many things, one of the most important is to not lose your cool when something bad happens. Someone cuts you off in traffic? You can honk your horn and practice your single hand signing, or you can stay calm and wish positive thoughts for the person since, for all you know, they may be rushing to the hospital to be with their dying child.
Marcus Aurelius said it best, “Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”
6. Learn to think scientifically
As it relates to continuous improvement, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is how important scientific thinking is.
My favorite analogy is that scientific thinking – which Mike Rother introduced to the world when he published the book Toyota Kata – is like a strong horse pulling a wagon. The horse is headed towards a far away destination. The horse sets off and, after some time, stops. The driver asks the horse, “Why did you stop?” The horse (who can talk…work with me) replies, “There’s an obstacle in my way.” The driver assesses the obstacle and pulls out the needed tools from the giant wagon. The obstacle is cleared. The horse regains its bearings and continues the journey.
While there is more to scientific thinking than this, the reason I like this analogy is that it correctly orders the relationship between thinking, experimentation, and tool use. The tools don’t lead…they serve.
7. Be humble and learn every lean and six sigma tool
While scientific thinking is critical, it’s far from sufficient. Staying with the horse and wagon analogy, the best, most successful continuous improvement practitioners have full wagons. They have learned, and continue to learn, all they can about lean, six sigma, project management, TOC, and any other form of continuous improvement.
They could even be accused of being “tool heads” since they never stop learning new ways to improve. However, since these folks also know how to think scientifically they never force tools into situations that don’t require them. But when an obstacle calls for SMED, or regression, or control charts, or any lean or six sigma tool they’re ready to go because their wagon is full.
8. Be prepared for when luck arrives
Many people and companies are “accused” of being lucky. Haters of the individual or company will say that the reason the person or company is successful is due to luck. And guess what? Luck could have definitely played an important role. Heck, Gemba Academy likely got lucky by starting our company in March of 2009…essentially the bottom of the bear market.
But, what successful people and companies also have in common is that they were prepared and ready to act when luck arrived. They seized the opportunity while unsuccessful people and companies sat on the sideline unprepared and unwilling to take the next step. So, be prepared. Be ready. And when that lucky opportunity arises, take action!
9. Be consistent
Our podcast recently reached a major milestone – our 300th episode. And while 300 is a big number, that’s not what I’m most proud of. The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve never missed a week since starting the podcast in April of 2014. I strongly believe that consistency is incredibly important to success in any endeavor. In fact, consistency and habit formation (see #4 above) go hand in hand.
A friend of mine recently asked me for my advice as they prepared to start their own podcast. My advice was to be consistent. If it’s a weekly show, do it weekly and never miss. If it’s a monthly show, do it monthly and never miss. People value certainty and stability and nothing disrupts certainty and stability more than inconsistency.
So whatever you hope to achieve or accomplish, be consistent.
10. Keep the rope tight
Imagine you’re holding onto the end of a long rope. If there’s a lot of slack in the rope and someone on other other end pulls you won’t know. But, if the rope is tight and someone pulls on the other end you’ll immediately know. This is a key tenet of continuous improvement that’s often missed.
We practice things like 5S so we can immediately identify when an abnormality occurs. We install andon systems so that our team members can immediately signal that a problem, or potential problem, exists. Put another way, done correctly, practicing lean and six sigma not only helps us make things better, they also help us act immediately when things deviate from the standard.