Thanksgiving and Gratitude – Can We Be Thankful For Waste, Problems, and Mistakes?


I'm grateful that I had the chance, on Monday, to spend the day with a health system. I'm grateful that they were interested in Lean and continuous improvement. I'm grateful that we had fun together, doing some exercises that help us learn and reflect about Kaizen and performance measures.

Why do I sound so grateful? Is my tone a bit different than usual? Perhaps.

I do complain a lot. I complain about bad service or inconsistent service from airlines… but I am grateful that they get me there safely.

It's Thanksgiving week in the United States. It's a reminder to be grateful for what we have and for the opportunity to get together with family and friends.

At the hospital, a chaplain shared a Thanksgiving poem on the theme of being grateful.

It struck a chord with me. As a Lean practitioner, it's easy to focus on the waste… the problems… the gaps. We think about what could be and the “ideal state.” We strive for perfection and it's easy to lose sight of what we have.

In healthcare, we might have broken processes, but we have wonderful, caring, hardworking people. We can be grateful for that… while striving to create better workplaces and perfect patient care. People shouldn't have to work so hard to fight bad systems… and nobody should be harmed by medical error.

I'm grateful that I'll get time on Tuesday with the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation as they honor and recognize people who are making great contributions to patient safety. The videos on this page are inspiring. We can be grateful for those patient safety heros who are of service to others.

Here is that poem, which is online as “author unknown.”

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary,
because it means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,
and they can become your blessings.

Thinking of the first two lines… should we be grateful for the waste? I won't feel grateful for it in the sense of, “Well, it's job security.” Waste and bad workplace systems cause a lot of harm — bad outcomes for patients and bad health for employees.

I guess we can be grateful for the challenge in that it helps us grow and develop ourselves so we can be better in the future — and better serve others.

We can be cognizant of our limitations, as nobody is perfect. We can be thankful for our limitations if it inspires us to improve and strive to be better.

It's really hard to be thankful for mistakes and fatigue… but I think the poem is right in saying that it's easy to be thankful for the successes.

I guess I'll continue to reflect on this over the long holiday weekend… can we learn to be thankful for our troubles and see them as blessings?

What do you think?

Happy Thanksgiving!


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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

    Here is a related post from the LEI website:

    “As we approach the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday it’s appropriate to reflect on Sakichi’s fifth precept:

    Be reverent, and show gratitude for things great and small in thought and deed.”

  2. Mark Graban says

    Here are some thank you letters from different hospital and health system CEOs.

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