June 21, 2018 karynross

Back to Basics Part 2: Why ‘striving for perfection’ is not the same as ‘continuous improvement’

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the 18th Lean Management Conference in Wroclaw, Poland. Not only was it a fabulous conference, with many great Lean thinkers and speakers, it was also a great opportunity to continue my ‘back to basics’ thinking. So, today, here’s my reflection on another of the most basic Lean principles and practices: Striving for perfection.

I often hear Lean described as ‘continuous improvement’ and that organizations who adopt Lean are working to ‘continuously improve’ the way they already do things. However, when we think back to the origins of Lean, to Sakichi Toyoda, the King of Inventors in Japan, the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way, inherent in the drive to create better, more effective and efficient ways to work is the goal of continuously ‘striving for perfection’.

The way I see it, striving for perfection is quite different than simply continuously improving. ‘Striving for perfection’ is active and forward-looking. ‘Striving for perfection’ provides a goal that is always just outside of our reach, stretching our thinking and creativity to both improve the way we work now and create new ways. ‘Striving for perfection’ acknowledges that although perfection may not ever be attainable, there is a huge positive potential in the act of challenging people to do more than they ever thought they could do and be more than they ever thought they could be.

Sometimes I visit organizations who balk at the idea of ‘striving for perfection’. Because they know that perfection is not possible, they believe striving for it would be demoralizing for their employees. I believe that the opposite is true. Knowing that the people you work for trust that you will be able to learn and grow and figure out how to do things you can’t do right now is affirming. Striving to perfect the products and services your organization makes to serve your customers is exciting and engaging for us as workers and human beings.

So, if you or your organizations practices Lean, please don’t limit your thinking – and yourself – to ‘continuous improvement’. You can do much more than that! Be much more than that! Challenge yourself and your team, instead, to ‘strive for perfection’!


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