Small Steps are the Best Path to Sustainable Big Results?
I am always happy to see something even vaguely related to the practice of Kaizen in mainstream publications. Here’s a recent essay from the New York Times:
The author, Carl Richards, asks why the “exciting and complex and quick” solution that “rarely works” (such as weight loss pills or day trading) – what he calls “Option A” – are so much more popular than a “boring and simple and slow” approach that “works nearly all the time” – “Option B.”
Richards isn’t really that puzzled, as he wrote:
“There are plenty of reasons we pick Option A over Option B. It’s got me thinking about the quiet power of incremental change. Incremental change is about taking small, gradual steps instead of making big sweeping changes.”
It’s not that puzzling to me. People love the silver bullet, easy peasy quick fix. Dr. Deming warned against “instant pudding.”
Jim Womack has liked to frequently say something like:
“People will try anything easy that doesn’t work before they’ll try something hard that DOES work.”
Hospitals will keep trying layoffs and slash-and-burn cost cutting. That’s easy. Does that really work?
Lean and Kaizen are the slow and boring alternative… it takes longer, but it seems more likely to work, as this now-retired hospital CEO figured out:
Last week, at the Studer Group What’s Right in Healthcare conference, Isaac Lidsky made a very similar point about incremental progress, as I tweeted:
— Mark Graban (@MarkGraban) August 3, 2017
Lidsky was a fascinating speaker by the way… a child TV star who graduated from Harvard at 19, clerked for two Supreme Court justices… and then went blind. He’s author of the book Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly.
If an organization wants to go from the 10th percentile in patient satisfaction to the 95% percentile, there probably isn’t one big huge improvement or project that will get you there.
It seems more likely that there’s dozens of improvements and changes.
Richards continues to sing the praises of Option B:
“You know what will work? Small actions repeated consistently over a very long period of time. Incremental change is short-term boring, but long-term exciting.”
Richards talks about the need to track progress:
“…keeping track of this incremental change helps reinforce why I’m making short-term boring choices. Because at some point, I’ll look back and see how far I have come, and short-term boring will become long-term exciting.”
If you’re improving patient satisfaction or HCAHPS from the 10th percentile to the 20th… and then to the 25th and then the 35th, you might see there’s still a big gap for potential improvement.
Hopefully seeing that progress can keep you on that path of incremental, sustainable improvement.
Another thought… is the path to improvement the simple stair steps that Richards wrote… or is it a winding path, like you see here?
— Catalysis (@HCValue) August 7, 2017
What do you think?