2017-09-04 Issue 13 Fundamental Behavior 12 Seek Improvement In Everything
My hope is that during your discussions of our Fundamental Behaviors over these twelve weeks you have noticed how closely linked many of them are to each other, to our Cycle of Goodness philosophy, and to our three Core Values. This week’s behavior, “Seek improvement in everything,” is no exception, as it is directly related to last week’s discussion of the kaizen concept explained in “Be process-driven,” to Behavior #4 “Make quality personal,” and to at least one of our Core Values, “Insist on quality in everything.”
Rarely can we say that we have perfected something. We produce something that is good, or even great, but usually it is not perfect. We achieve long-term, sustainable success by steadily improving whatever it is we’re trying to do, make, or create.
In his popular book, The Lean Startup, author Eric Ries suggests that entrepreneurs who want to start a new company or launch a new app for the Internet should not wait too long trying to perfect their concept. His advice is to get the product in front of the consumer as quickly as possible and begin a collaborative process of making steady improvements based on feedback from the consumer. He also suggests to entrepreneurs that they “fail fast.” In other words, that they go ahead and launch the product or the company, make necessary improvements, and then succeed or fail sooner rather than later. By failing sooner, they can move on to their next idea.
Another concept I learned from this book is that we are all entrepreneurs. If we work in an environment that is creating new products, services, or ideas, then we are entrepreneurs. Until reading this book, I honestly didn’t realize that I was an entrepreneur, too.
As interesting as Mr. Ries’ concepts are, I’m not suggesting that we need to adopt his suggestion that we release our products too early or that we try to fail fast. We pride ourselves in “perfecting” our products before we send them to our customers, lest we create any problems in our customers’ products or their manufacturing processes. But we certainly have benefited in recent years from the collaborative process we have with our customers whose trust we have earned, in which we say, “Here’s a new, unperfected idea. What do you think?” Our R&D and product development activities are moving in this direction of developing ideas with our customers, and it is yielding huge benefits at the same time it is speeding up the development process.
There is no doubt I was influenced years ago by the concept of kaizen (discussed last week), as my personal philosophy has been to seek steady improvement. I have always called it “incremental progress.” I remember when my daughter was writing an essay in high school and she could not even get started. When I asked why she wasn’t writing, she expressed anxiety and frustration about having to write a 1000-word essay. My suggestion was that she forget about the 1000 words and simply write down the topic she had chosen. Then I asked her to come up with a brief outline of some subjects that could be included in her essay. Then I asked her to break each line of her outline into subtopics. Then, with little encouragement from me, she jotted down a few sentence about each idea. Before too much time had passed, she had her 1000-word essay. She wrote it incrementally, with no problem at all as the daunting task became almost fun for her.
Along these same lines, we don’t go out and prepare for a marathon by running a marathon our first day of practice. We run a short distance today and then a slightly longer distance tomorrow. Incrementally we work up to the ultimate goal. Both in business and in our personal lives, we can achieve excellent results if we always seek improvements. The concept of personal savings, for example, are based on steady small savings. Financial advisers teach us about dollar cost averaging, and regular investments have been proven to be vastly superior to any attempts to time the market by making a larger investment at “just the right time.” And here’s one last example of seeking improvement: We don’t lower our blood pressure overnight, rather we start to exercise regularly, lose weight, eat healthy food, and eliminate the excesses that hurt our bodies. I’m sure you will have many additional ideas. It’s all about incremental progress and steady improvement of everything.
Please engage in a meaningful discussion about how you and your colleagues can create an authentic process of seeking improvement in every aspect of your life at work. Together we can improve quality, reduce loss (and cost), improve productivity and efficiency, and also make our work environments more enjoyable place for us to spend eight or more hours of each workday.
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America