Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Small changes every day

Yesterday's lecture was on "continuous improvement" which is now a management tool - practised by the Japanese in their Toyota factories for decades, and more recently proposed by Americans such as Stephen Spear and Don Kiefer. The crux of it is that we can - and do - improve in exponentially greater steps by consciously modifying routine tasks every day.

I know this is true because I go to the gym. Not religiously, but twice a week for most weeks. And in four years, my trainers have re-shaped the body so that it is more streamlined, somewhat stronger, and clothes hang better on certain parts. That's continuous improvement in the face of gravity and time.

For the last few months, I have started sorting trash and putting glass, cans and plastics into different bins. We take re-usable shopping bags to the grocery, and the amount of plastic bags (which would go to the vegetable man) has been reduced considerably. We hope that the other million or so inhabitants of these two islands, and the billions others around the world would also continuously improve their disposal of garbage - though it may take another 40 years to reverse the habits that have produced garbage patches in all our oceans, and eons to rid the same oceans of what has already been dumped there. It's the magnitude of some tasks that prevent us from taking even the first step.

But take it, we must. We must learn that while we can see the big picture, it's actually made up of many tiny parts, each important to the whole. So let us begin in this corner. Define the problem of this day, make the important decisions to get moving. Then, just do it. We are sensory and perceptive creatures. This means we learn, identify, modify, adapt, change - and improve - in the doing. This is what the most prolific artists understand - the art is in the practice.

There's always the next painting, song, book, the next day, to aim to be 30% faster, or use 30% fewer resources, to write 30% more words, to be better.

So what happened to Toyota?

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