Updated: May 1, 2019
I grew up involved in sports. Not because I was spectacularly good at athletics but because my buddies were signing up. They were spectacularly good at athletics! However, once I got on the team, I must say I enjoyed the experience. The one memory I can still recall is a football coach who would stand over us during practice as we sweated and toiled on the ground agonizing over exercises (exercises that today would put me in the hospital!)
"Gentlemen!" the coach would extol, "Practice makes perfect!!", and then he would add, "The better you are, the farther behind you'll leave the competition!" Ah, yes! That is why we were slamming our bodies into each other and bouncing on the ground!
Here is what I understood as I rolled in the grass and became familiar with the taste of dirt. While "perfection" may not be attainable, you have to be better than your competition to win. To beat your competitor, you must be better in every element of the game you are playing. So while the coaches were responsible for having the best strategy and planning, I was responsible for doing better than the player on the other side of the scrimmage line. This reality is what wins games consistently.
This to me is the fundamental premise of Lean and Continuous Improvement. We strive to perfect what we do for our customers and celebrate when we take just one step toward superior results. Therefore, focusing team members on practicing the activity of making improvements over and over again brings long-term success.
Many organizations try to win with random acts of improvement or only solving significant problems when they arise. Competitor-beating and profit growing results come from an on-going practice of getting better every day. The team may sweat and toil over the exercises of Lean and Continuous Improvement, but it is this regular activity of strength-building that pushes the organization ahead of the competition. If you believe perfection cannot be obtained, then at least practice keeps you headed toward something close to perfection!
Neuroscience supports this and can explain the effects of constant practice on our brain. And no other example speaks of this more clearly than riding a bike. This video from Smarter Every Day is an enjoyable discovery of the truth that if we desire to get good at doing something, we must get into the habit of practicing the action regularly. The key for me is that there is no other way of improvement! Progress, change, and habit-creation come from regular practice.
So, as you travel your Continuous Improvement journey, remember to practice those activities that will make you and your team better. Practice every day, practice at work and home. The more you do this, the better you become! When a team (sports or business) does this, it will move ahead and beat the competition and realize stronger success.