What Can a 10 Month Old Child Teach Us About Focus, Willpower… and Kaizen?


Mark's note: Today's guest post is by Gert Linthout, from Belgium. Gert and I were part of the same Lean healthcare study trip to Japan back in 2012. He was the co-creator of this creative video on Kaizen that I featured in this blog post. See his previous guest post.

By Gert Linthout

gertLast Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed a cup of coffee in a local coffee bar in Ghent.

We were joined by our 10-month-old daughter, Hasse, who was babbling cheerfully away, as she often does when she does something she finds to be earth shattering, such as stuffing a piece of paper into her mouth. Over the last few weeks, she has added to that a frantic effort to stand on her hands and feet, possibly – though unsuccessfully – in order to bid farewell to her sedentary existence once and for all. Today was no different.

Not expecting it to have any effect, I placed a toy on the floor 1 ½ metres away from her: “C'mon, Hasse, try to get it…” After a bit of puffing and wriggling, her face turning red, she gave up the battle. However, she remained focused. I placed a second toy a little closer to her…

Having been given new incentive, she gathered all her strength and sure enough, after a tactical standstill, she pulled herself closer, centimetre by centimetre, driven purely by arm strength and willpower, until she had the toy in her hand. Determined, she continued her way, pursuing her second trophy, which at first had seemed unreachable! Her first attempts at crawling were a success…

Apart from fatherly pride, this event also inspired me:

Focus: it is remarkable how small children can focus on a single thing with such intensity and how this prompts them to stretch their personal boundaries. Whereas we do our utmost in our work and private life to multitask and combine, knowing full well that there is plenty of evidence that shows that this results in a 30-40% loss of time and, worse yet, that we rarely tap into our true capacities. After all, recent brain research has shown that our brain is most active when at rest.

Willpower: there was only one reason why Hasse managed to crawl along those endless centimetres and it was not (yet) technique or talent, but sheer willpower! Roy Baumeister and John Tierney have written an interesting book about this called Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Personally, I'm very pleased that ‘perseverance' is one of our four Möbius values.

Realistic goals: when a goal seems unreachable, it does not have an ‘attraction effect'. However, when you take things step by step, you get people moving ahead.

The art of making things small: you make progress by taking one step at a time, by achieving small successes repeatedly, by trying, failing and trying again until you succeed. You do not reach your goal by giving things too much thought, but by training your muscles and mastering a technique until you are able to achieve your goal. This is not only true for people, but also for organizations.

Children achieve realistic goals by taking one step at a time and remaining focused. That is the reason why they make such fast progress. Maybe we do have something to learn from our children?

Next to being a proud father, Gert is inspired by the continuous improvement ideal and is an ‘extreme' value adding thinker. Since 2003, he brings his conviction into practice as management consultant at http://www.mobius.eu/en/.

See also a video about the Baumeister and Tierney book:



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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.

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