Grow or die. It’s the truth. Your body replaces old cells with new ones at the rate of millions per second. The same is true of our careers, organizations and relationships.
I was reminded of this when my systems thinking mentor Walter Werner, Deming Master wrote me recently.
“I have expressed my frustration when people say: We already did Deming. If you understand the Deming Wheel then PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) must be repeated over and over until you die or at least retire.
We used to say continuous improvement but almost in defense we started saying never ending continuous improvement. Even then we continued to hear: but when will we be done? (Repeat to yourself: WHAT PART OF NEVER ENDING DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?)"
Making sure that I am personally embracing never ending learning and growing is the one thing that stresses me more than anything. I know in my mind, heart and soul that when I am growing, improving, learning life is good. However I also know that it takes energy to keep growing. To be sustainable the energy for never ending learning must come from within. It cannot be bought, bribed or bargained for. Rather, it must be an intrinsic passion, curiosity and caring to discover and develop the new.
To keep me focused on growing I have developed some habits that have helped me.
1. I ask myself "What have I learned?" I do this after major events but most importantly I do this every weekend - reflecting back on the week that was. I also do this January 1 and July 1 looking back on the broader stream of my life.
2. I challenge myself to answer "What will be meaningfully different?" Learning without action is of no value. The reason we learn is to apply the learning to improve something. It is easy for me to fool myself into believing that I'm applying my learning when in truth I'm simply tampering. I'm making a difference that is not a difference. To check that I'm making a real difference I challenge myself to say in a full voice what will be different. "Instead of ________ we are now going to ____________" or "what will be different this time is _________"
3. When in doubt I Fail FAST & Fail CHEAP. I've learned from experience that when I've thought about a change and can't come to an answer - the best thing to do is to do something to learn more. In effect "ties mean go." Importantly, I don't simply leap off the cliff with my new parachute - I leap off a tall ladder into a sand pit first :). I've learned that everything can be prototyped, tested, experimented with. Each of these cycles is known as a PDSA or Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle. The faster I can do them - the sooner I get to a point where I know what I need to do - I know what I must do.
Never Ending Continuous Improvement is fundamental to the Innovation Engineering field of study and application on and off campus. To that end we have created systems for making sure that we are living what we teach. To that end:
1. Last week we released version 3.1 of our InnovationEngineeringLabs.com portal. It's faster, smarter and easier to use.
2. The IE Education team (at the Eureka! Ranch and University of Maine) spent the week reinventing our courses making them more relevant, useful and effective.
3. And this blog post is a new start as well. The InnovationEngineeringNews.com and No Guru Required blogs we've published have become the Innovation Engineering Blog. At the start of each week I will post "what I've learned" from the week before. In addition, we will be posting Spark Deck slides during the week - designed to help ignite fresh ideas - for you personally and or with your team.