Continuous improvement is a system of thought based on the idea that, no matter what the current situation is, improvement is always possible- and therefore should be made.
- Continuous improvement is a rejection of pessimism.
- Continuous improvement is a rejection of stagnation.
- Continuous improvement is a rejection of accepting the "status quo".
Continuous improvement has a mind-set that is "happy - but never satisfied".
Examples of continuous improvement
1. The automotive industry
The automotive industry builds cars that improve every year. The industry is constantly innovating.
It is continually striving to keep up with technological advances, legislation relating to emissions performance, customer expectations and the competition.
In sports, we have just witnessed the Olympic Games in London. The Olympic ideal is founded on the principle of continuous improvement. And so, in the London 2012 Olympics, thirty eight new world records were set. And we can expect that, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, some of these records will be exceeded.
Why, can we expect that Olympic records will be continually broken? Because, ambitious athletes from around the world are endlessly striving to improve on the best.
The same attitude of mind is prevalent in the scientific community; for example in the medical industry. In each year there are new breakthroughs in pharmacology, immunology, surgery, genetics and every other medical specialism. We can expect a steady flow of new treatments and new techniques to come on-line, in the next decades.
4. Communications industry
The communications industry is the best example of continuous improvement. The printing press was invented in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg. The invention of the printing press ignited an explosion in the exchange of ideas and information. That in turn, led to the Enlightenment, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution; and to the explosive progression of technology, science and information that has continued, unabated, ever since.
And the rate of improvement is increasing.
There are now so many advances in communications technology that it is becoming difficult to keep up. When you buy a piece of electronic equipment, by the end of that same year, you realise that your machine is old-fashioned in comparison with the latest model.
But sadly............. most people are NOT interested in the concept of continuous improvement.
The majority of the population do not share in this philosophy of progression.
Instead, many people actively resist any suggestion that they should go to work on themselves with the intention of improving the quality of their work and beating their best performance.
If you tell the average guy that he needs to improve his performance, that he needs to make some changes; then he would take such a statement as an insult rather than a challenge.
If you say "We did well last year. But we can and should strive to do even better next year" you may hear the response from many: "Are you never satisfied?"
Are you never satisfied?
For many, satisfaction and happiness are linked: i.e. IF you were happy, THEN you would be satisfied.
(If you are not satisfied- then you must be unhappy)
But for the Continuous Improver, there is no such link:
I.e. I am happy, but I am never satisfied- I believe that we can do better.
The perils of self satisfaction
Although we like the idea of being satisfied: psychologically and materially, it is not a good place to be.
The guy who is "self-satisfied" is the guy who is prone to stagnation and his motivation to make further improvements is dampened.
The satisfied individual says "If it isn't broke- don't fix it"
His other phrases include "Oh why bother to work that hard; such a small improvement won't make any difference."
So the satisfied individual does not do anything to make his performance any better than last year's performance.
Unfortunately for him, his competitors DO think that a 2% improvement, compounded over time, does make a big difference. And within four years the satisfied individual is way behind; and can't figure out what went wrong.
He says "Why has my luck changed? I haven't changed. So why has my luck changed?"
The answer is "Your luck changed BECAUSE you didn't change".
What is the mind-set of continuous improvement?
The first thing is this:
To be always happy - but never satisfied
Be always happy
Continuous improvement includes being happy. You are happy because you know that you are already in a fairly good place. But you are never satisfied because you also know that your potential for progress is never exhausted.
There are always some realms where improvement is still possible - and should be made.
In addition to this maxim, there are the following tenants of the mind-set of a continuous improver:
You know that improvement is made by evolutionary advance: building on the past and making small incremental changes over time.
So every day you are looking for baby steps improvement.
Keep accurate records and strive to improve on your best.
Simply repeating what you did last time does not drive progress.
If you did 10 last month, then strive to beat 10 this month.
- Do more or do better.
- Or do more AND better!
Don't repeat what you did last year: innovate and improve.
Progress is the name of the game!
Progression is not the result of favour or chance; progression is the natural result of proper thinking; a long cherished association with intelligent thought.
Regression is, by a similar process, not a thing of ill-favour or bad luck: but is the result of neglect; the refusal to think.
Thinking must be purposeful, informed and designed to achieve progression.
Compete with your last best performance.
Never cheat yourself by doing less than your best.
Many people lose simply because they use a fraction of their potential
Take yourself seriously.
This does not imply being "grim".
Serious people are not grim. Serious people often have a smile of their face but they take life seriously.
Examples of serious individuals who smile:
- Richard Branson
- Tony Blair
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Barack Obama
- Usain Bolt
Take a look at the above list. All these people have the following attributes.
They all are progressive, methodical, intelligent and serious about achieving their potential.
None of the above would be heard saying;
"Why bother? Let us leave it. The world record is okay as it is".
Use all your potential and strive to be the best version of you that is possible.