Driving in the UK

I’m proud to report that I survived driving in the U.K. for the first time today, driving about an hour to Cambridge. I’m working in a town without a direct rail link (would have to go down to London and back up… wasted motion) and the bus takes about 3x longer than driving. So I sucked it up and rented a car. Got a small GM product called a Vauxhall Astra (pictured in blue, parked at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial).

It was my first time driving on the left side of the road. I have some experience with roundabouts from some time in the northeastern U.S., but they go clockwise here and there are A LOT of them everywhere. I’m happy to say I don’t think I endangered anybody directly.

It’s a challenge, requiring concentration, to shift driving habits after 18 years of driving in the U.S. I was sure to rent an automatic (not always easy to get here) since I didn’t want my brain to explode thinking about driving a manual (which I am capable of, just not on that side and not while focusing on keeping left).

It got me thinking (on the way back, when my comfort level grew and I didn’t have to focus 100% on “keep left, keep left… not too far left… keep left.” I started thinking about Lean and how we often, with Lean improvements, change the way people’s work is done. Think about going from working in batches to single piece flow. It feels weird at first. It’s awkward for a while, then you start getting comfortable and it’s OK.

I use an exercise with teams in training that doesn’t EXACTLY correspond to my driving experience today, but I’ll share it anyway. You can do this at home. Write (or type) a name like “George Washington” ten times and time how long it takes (my team here chose to write Winston Churchill, no joke).

Now, we’re going to institute a somewhat nonsensical “efficiency improvement.” Now type or write just every other letter of that name and time it.

  1. Gog Wsigo
  2. Gog Wsigo
  3. Gog Wsigo
  4. etc….

It’s 50% fewer letters… should be half the time, right? NO! It’s real awkward and requires a ton of thinking. Until you get a few down (and start copying your work instead of thinking so much), then it gets easier.

It’s “better” but it’s also “new,” so there is a “learning curve” involved. The first few “Gog Wsigo”s take much longer than 1/10th of the previous time. But, then it gets much faster and the time to write 10 is much faster (although not 1/2 the previous time… because of the learning curve effect early on).

We use this example to emphasize an important idea in change management — not giving up too early! If you give up on your new process when it’s new and “it’s difficult,” you’ll go back to old ways and lose out on your benefits that would have come from the improvement.

That said, you have to make sure you aren’t just being stubborn if the new process truly is NOT better than the old one… the old PDCA cycle requires checking, not just waiting for things to automatically get better via the learning curve.

Do you have similar experiences from your work? Or your own driving over here?

p.s. It took me 55 seconds to write “George Washington” ten times (with pretty poor quality, I’ll admit). The 2nd faster attempt took 35 seconds for ten. Not 1/2 the time. The first “Gog Wsigo” took about 8 seconds… slower, but then I got faster.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

2 Comments on "Driving in the UK"

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  1. Ron Pereira says:

    Wow, Mark… I am VERY impressed with you. In all my travels to the UK I have never driven and don’t ever plan to.

    Also, I love the word game and plan to use it going forward. Great stuff.

    Be safe my friend, and let’s do that dang video sometime in the coming month!

    Cheers, mate.

  2. Scott Sorheim says:

    Great practical example to get people to “stick with it.” Thanks for the insight.

    Reminds me of this look at “Overcoming the Improvement Paradox” found here:

    http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/EMJPaper.pdf

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