Dilbert’s Colleague “Jeff’ and “That Will Never Work”


The Dilbert strip from June 18 features a (new?) colleague of Dilbert's… a guy named Jeff.

In the first panel, Jeff shows himself to be a Negative Nelly:

Dilbert Jeff Never Work

The practice of Kaizen requires a certain positivity. Instead of pointing out “here's why that won't work,” we need to focus more on asking “how do we make that work?”

I'm not saying that we shouldn't question or challenge things… but when there's a pattern of being that one guy who is against everything that everybody else is for, that becomes a problem. There's a difference between:

  1. having reservations or concerns and figuring out how to get past them
  2. just being incurably negative

People get cynical over time in dysfunctional organizations… that's understandable. It can be difficult to change the culture when an organization hasn't been successful in the past. We face really serious challenges in healthcare that sometimes seem insurmountable.

We need to reduce infection rates by 90%. “That will never work.”

We're going to use checklists consistently in the O.R. “That will never work.”

We need to adopt and adapt a management system that has its roots in another industry. “That will never work.”

We're going to adopt a daily Lean management system and a new organizational culture. “That will never work.”

We need to more deeply and consistently engage our employees in improvement. “That will never work.”

It's an easy habit to get into. The “that will never work” statement might have been correct most of the time in the past. Demonstrating a little bit of success might help people see what change is possible. That can help turn the tide to the Jeffs of the world saying “That might work.” But, sometimes old habits die hard…

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Some Kaizen thinking and a clever improvement to share:



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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. Mark Graban says

    Comment from LinkedIn:

    Bear in mind that many of us have been doing our job well for years, perhaps even decades. A large percentage of the responses: “It won’t work” are given because during our long tenure, we TRIED it already…and it did not work.

    My response:

    Fair enough, but something not working in the past does not mean that it can’t work in the future. Likewise, just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future. Jeff, and folks like him, need to be able to articulate why it didn’t work in the past. Was it doomed to fail or could a different approach be taken to make it successful this time?

  2. Mark Graban says

    Comment from Facebook:

    I have dealt with the “Jeff” types quite often. A mentor once described thesr type of people as C.A.V.E men, Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I love the challenge of getting them to see the light.

  3. Karen says

    Your post made me laugh this morning. Spent the last few days with a client, working on an improvement project. I took a page out of Karen Martin’s book and this became my mantra: Guys, you have to move away from “no, because…” and try “yes, if…”

    Folks get stuck in the old ways and just can’t see things any other way. And it is much easier to be negative than positive (just look at our daily newspapers).

    In our industry (law) there are many, many naysayers. We’re working on them, one Jeff at a time.


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