The Continuous Improvement Mindset

I worked in technology management for an uber-successful chemical company for several years - back in the late eighties and nineties. I owe so much to that organization because I've based a chunk of my approach to business, ministry and life on a few of the concepts I learned there.

I think the most important thing I took from that experience is the mindset of continuous improvement. I remember attending classes the company sponsored on Dr. Deming's approach to the subject.

At first I thought that these Kaizen ("good change") methods of using statistical process control to make our product better only applied to manufacturing or business processes - stuff that happened in the lab, or on the production floor or in the office.

And along that line of thinking - I'm certainly not going to lecture here on incremental vs. step-change, process metrics, upper and lower control limits, standard deviations and all the other tools of the business side of continuous improvement. I'll leave that thrill ride to those of you with the intestinal fortitude to apply such concepts in your workplace.

But over the years, I've observed that the successful leaders that I aspire to be like "when I grow up" have all adopted the mindset of continuous improvement. They apply the general principles of the discipline in their everyday lives. Each of them has done it in their own way, of course - but they are all "continuous improvers".

For example, continuous improvers:

- question the status quo
- are open to new ideas
- don't ever think they've "arrived"
- crave learning
- seek fresh answers to even the oldest of questions
- value flexible partnerships over rigid hierarchies
- focus on the goals of the future rather than on the mistakes of the past
- read good books written by smart people
- are keen observers of human nature, human relationships and emotional processes
- increase their awareness of the world around them rather than build walls of ignorance
- set goals
- plan the work
- work the plan
- monitor progress
- revel in successes
- learn from failures
- stay positive

and on and on. You get the point.

I think the one statement that sums it all up for me is this:
A continuous improver concentrates their thoughts, their words and their actions toward creating a better future for themselves and ultimately for the world around them.
And I believe it is right there - precisely in that statement - where the philosophy of continuous improvement and the theology of the kingdom of God line up beautifully. They snap together like puzzle pieces to create a way of life that produces what God wants for us and for the world.

Check this out. In Phillipians 3:15, Paul says,
"All of us who are mature should take such a view of things."
What "view of things" is he talking about, you ask?

It's the view he set forth in the previous few verses. See if you can identify whether or not Paul was a continuous improver based on this passage.

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
What do you say - was Paul a continuous improver or not? What aspect of this passage leads you to your answer?

Father, help me to be always learning, always open to a better way and always focused on the bright future promised in your magnificent kingdom story. Help me and my friends to live now, as much as we can, in the resurrection-light of your kingdom to come.


Anonymous said...

I have a question but it doesn't have anything to do with this blog. You know when we were talking out of Philippians last week.

I am talking with this guy who says we must decrease so that God can increase.

The context was that one lady said that we need to not preach at people but rather befriend them talk to them and show them what Christ's love is. But he said that we need to decrease so that Christ will increase.

Now I was rereading what we were talking about specifically Philippians 2:4 and I am not sure how to explain that to him How we came to our conclusion. I was playing with that rubix cube and missed the point.

Mike Aleckson said...

Yes, Heather - perhaps that Rubik's cube wasn't the best thing to have around during our talk the other night! :)

The point I made on Phil. 2:4 was that Paul used the word "merely" - don't merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.

If we look at that passage and conclude that our interests have no value, that we should just let the agendas of everyone around us continually replace our own - then we devolve into doormats that will never get anything done in life. That's nonsense.

But some Christian leaders imply just that kind of thing.

Again, looking at the passage, Paul does not say that our interests are to be forgotten. He says "Don't exclusively pursue your interests, but also those of others".

The way I restated it in terms of self-differentiated leadership was, "You must continue to define and sharpen your life goals. But as you do, make sure that you are not putting yourself and your goals and your desires narcissistically above all those around you. Consider how you can help others to define their life goals, and how you can assist them in achieving those goals - even as you achieve yours."

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Totally. :o)