Another Example of Small Steps as a Starting Point for Success


You might remember one of my favorite podcasts was with Dr. Bob Maurer of UCLA, author of two great books on the Kaizen style of continuous improvement. I'll share it here… I guess it's a “Throwback Thursday.”

Dr. Maurer emphasizes how we need to make change small in order to avoid triggering the amygdala (our “reptile brain”) and the “fight or flight” instinct that naturally happens even when a change is logically positive.

He uses an example about encouraging an overweight patient to start small. If a doctor tells patient they need to exercise 30 minutes a day, that's likely to seem overwhelming and the patient might be scared off from starting at all. Dr. Maurer has found success in encouraging a patient to start by getting off the couch while watching TV when a commercial starts — to start walking in place 30 seconds at a time. Once there is some initial success, the patient can move up and exercise for longer and longer time intervals.

It's better to start small than to not start at all!

I wrote about this concept at the LEI Lean Post earlier this year. Have you tried applying the idea of “baby steps” to personal change or New Year's resolutions this year?

This concept applies to personal change or organizational change, as Joe Swartz and I wrote about in Healthcare Kaizen — excerpted below:

Step 1–Find

“The first of the five steps of Quick and Easy Kaizen is to search for and find an opportunity for improvement or a problem to resolve.

Start Small

At Franciscan, the confidence to implement Kaizens did not just suddenly appear. It took several years of practice, trial and error, and coaching for our stronger Kaizeneers to grow their Kaizen skills and to gain enough confidence to become really proficient at Kaizen. Nancy Mosier, manager of Pediatrics at Franciscan said,

“I start where they are. If they are a beginner to Kaizen, I encourage them to take baby steps and start small. I approve their Kaizens right away to get wins, especially if their Kaizen only impacts them. I want them to gain confidence in the process.”

As people gain confidence in their abilities, leaders can challenge them and push them to improve their problem-solving skills. Early on, the focus should be on building enthusiasm and confidence.”

I saw another article in the news that reminded me of this “start small” approach.

‘I started small': How walking every day helped this woman lose 50 pounds

The story features Rebecca Thomas, who lost 50 pounds.

“When you've been sedentary for a long time, the idea of signing up for a big race, or an intense gym class can be overwhelming, says Thomas.

“It's just too big of a leap to all of a sudden throw yourself into an exercise regimen,” she says.”

Her advice:

If you are overweight and have been sedentary for a long time, Thomas advises starting small and building up your walking routine in increments.

“Walk around the block one time, and then the next day, walk around the block two times,” she says.

She adds: “I started small. It's completely fine to start small. Honor your body where it is right now.”

Again, the key is starting small and then moving up from there. The same is true with continuous improvement in the workplace. Sometimes people get overwhelmed when they try to come up with huge projects or million-dollar ideas.

Again, we can start with small ideas… with a small impact. And then, move up from there. Small improvements beget more improvements. The impact will accumulate and you'll move up to bigger, more complex improvements. As Thomas said, “It's completely fine to start small.” You can honor your employees and your organization where it is right now.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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