The More I Travel, the More Kaizen Opportunities I Create


Many of you have asked if I'm at the AME Conference this week in Chicago. I am not, as I had a previous invitation to speak at the Swiss Lean Conference today.

My theme was Kaizen — engaging everybody, everywhere, and every day in improvement. As I said during my talk, we can strive for perfection through continuous improvement, but we'll never get there. As Vince Lombardi said, if we strive for perfection, we might achieve excellence.

I'm certainly not perfect and I haven't been shy about mistakes I've made, like forgetting to pack socks for a business trip.

For this trip, I flew from DFW to London Heathrow, departing late Saturday night (like almost midnight). I was then connecting on to Zürich after a few hours' layover.

Some have said that connecting at Heathrow was a mistake. LOL, they are probably correct.

When I was connecting at Heathrow, I had to take my carry-on suitcase through security again.

I've learned from a previous trip (a vacation) that checking a suitcase is risky… since that bag was lost and misplaced by American Airlines and Iberian Airlines for four days. My wife's bag was lost too. In fact, my flawed logic was, “Since she's checking a bag, I'll check mine too.”

That was BAD thinking. Poor logic.

What I should have done (and my Kaizen) was to put some of my wife's clothes in my suitcase… and then I'd carry on my bag, since it was small enough. That would have mitigated the risk of her checked bag getting delayed or lost. Live and learn. Travel and learn… make mistakes and Kaizen.

We're all human — making mistakes is OK as long as we learn and don't make the same mistakes over and over.

Anyway, my wife has learned and her Kaizen was making sure she can use a suitcase that's small enough to carry on. Another Kaizen that made that possible was not packing as many shoes. That sounds stereotypical, but it's true.

Anyway, back to my trip.

When I went through security at Heathrow, there were many steps. This required many bins, if I remember correctly (I was tired and jetlagged):

  • A bin with my backpack
  • A bin with my MacBook Pro and iPad
  • A bin with my shoes, overcoat, and zip-lock back of toiletries
  • A bin with my suitcase

When I arrived to my hotel in Zürich, after dark on Sunday, I realized that I had left behind my clear toiletries bag. Oh no!

At least I had the most important things — my passport, my laptop, and my overcoat. Actually, I wouldn't have been able to depart for Zürich without my passport, as that part is error proofed through scanning at the gate.

So what happened?

I told this story during Q&A at the conference today. Again, I don't mind admitting mistakes (I'm trying to lead by example as I have through my stories in the anthology book Practicing Lean).

During the break afterward, a woman came up to me and, with a smile, said:

“I can't believe a person like you, who travels so much, doesn't have a consistent process!”

So that's the thing… I was out of process!

For one, I was tired. It's well known that humans are more prone to mistakes, errors, and slip ups when we are fatigued.

Secondly, I was “out of process.”

When I travel in the U.S., I never have to remove anything from my bags, thanks to TSA Precheck.

I have traveled internationally before, of course and I know the rules are different. That knowledge wasn't enough to prevent an error.

A third factor was the confusing bin-and-conveyor system at Heathrow. They have a similar automated bin ystem at DFW Airport's Terminal D and I hate it. Instead of bags flowing through in sequence by traveler, there are four parallel spots. Four travelers load their items and the bins get jumbled up. The airports claim this system is faster, but I've never seen evidence of that.

So, that's another factor that through me off. I was waiting for my suitcase bin to come through… after a few minutes, I realized it already came through and it was down at the end. I was tired and discombobulated.

Again, long story short, I forgot to grab the toiletries bag.

I blamed myself at first. “You idiot,” I thought.

But that's not really fair (you might disagree).

I've never made that mistake before, but it was bound to happen.

By the way, the biggest issue with the lost bag was not my toothpaste and shaving cream. That was easily replaced at the Zürich airport shops.

The problem was my two prescription eye drops that I take for glaucoma. To my surprise, I was actually able to purchase the eye drops from a Zürich pharmacy for a total of $50, without getting a local prescription. The drops were more expensive than they would have been back home, but it was cheaper than the $160 it would have cost to have my wife FedEx new bottles from my home inventory.

Now that the short-term countermeasure was in place (get new drops), my thoughts turned to “How can I prevent this from happening again?”

My first idea is one that prevents the error, but skirts the rules:

I could leave the two small prescription bottles of eye drops in my backpack's side pocket. If I eliminate removing them from the bag, I can't accidentally leave them behind. In the past, I've had non-prescription allergy eye drops that I've accidentally left in the bag and security has never seen them.

I could also put a big warning sign on my suitcase:

I wouldn't expect that countermeasure to work.

I did go through airport security at Zürich without losing my eyedrops. “Attentiveness” and “awareness” is probably going to work in the short term, as my mistake is fresh in my mind. But, over time, I will be complacent.

Do you have any other ideas for ways that I can prevent leaving that bag behind at airport security?

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleEpisode #9 of the “Lean Whiskey” Podcast: Affordable Bourbon, Halloween, Air Travel, Six Sigma, and Lean as a 2nd Job?
Next articleOperational Excellence Mixtape: November 8, 2019
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.


  1. Put the bag or bags partially inside your shoes. Or leave them inside your coat pockets (in the tray). I have done the latter without issue.

    Alternatively put a visible and tactile tag on carry-on bag handle. Maybe tie an empty plastic bag that you used for the liquids.

    Lastly carry an empty box from your eye drops and put that inside your shoe. You won’t walk far without remembering…

  2. Great post, I am a new reader to this blog site and have enjoyed it so far! I think this post is a great example of how a common event such as traveling can have many flaws, it is also an event that many can relate to. As the women had mentioned at the conference, a process could be a great improvement in order to reduce the risk associated with traveling, however it can not prevent 100% of risks. Human error on the part of the traveler and those working at the airport can also come into play. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very interesting to see how kaizen opportunities are everywhere, even in places we would not commonly think. Although it was an unfortunate outcome, it was interesting to see all the factors that went into that situation. I have also left items in security in my previous traveling experiences, but as you stated it is a great opportunity to learn and not make that same mistake twice. My solution for this issue was trying to layer my items inside one another in the bin that way I was able to make sure I took everything with me.

    • Good idea. I can be more mindful of putting my bag on TOP of a coat… but sometimes TSA moves things, etc. so they can get better scans.

      I did NOT lose my liquids coming home through Heathrow…

  4. Hey Mark, I had a similar problem of forgetting to have high speed film hand inspected after the 2014 World Cup and lost 5 rolls of film to the X-ray scanner. As far as leaving things behind, maybe one of the bluetooth tracker devices that has a separation alarm feature would work? Put one in your suitcase, your backpack, the clear bag, and maybe even affix one to you laptop and ipad when travelling?

    • I like the idea of finding an inexpensive chip or tracker that would notify my phone if the tracker is too far away… that would work when traveling, perhaps, or it’s worth trying. I bet the odds of my leaving my phone behind (I always put in my backpack) are pretty slim.

      I do use “Tile” brand object trackers on important things like my keys, my backpack, my prescription sunglasses case, and my “Red Bead” game kit.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.