Category Archives: Continuous Improvement

Perfection or Death …!

I know a man, quite unbalanced,

refining his limerick talents.

A sensational poet,

And the whole world would know it,

But he can’t get the last line to rhyme.

via Dave’s Big Fat Limerick site


How much of our work is like this?

We strive and struggle, we create and fine-tune, we just plain work our you-know-what’s off to deliver great work … but we cannot get that last or that critical part just right.

At that point, we think we only have two options:

1)  Keep chugging away, spending more time, more money, more effort in an attempt to “get it right”.

The theory behind this is that just more of something (see above list and add your favorite element) will produce that perfect product.  Many motivational speakers have financed great vacations, fancy cars, and large retirement funds based on the notion that failure is only due to not believing hard enough or working hard enough.

This is not realistic thinking …

2)  Give up and deep-six the whole kit and caboodle, because we cannot “get it right”.

In a totally different direction, but with similar logic, this theory states that if you are not able to do something really well or perfectly, you should abandon it and seek perfection elsewhere.   This stance, at least, has some realism attached to it.  We sometimes beat our heads against walls which we will never scale.

Sort of “all or nothing” thinking …

How about a third alternative, which most of you have already thought of …

Just do it …

I was told early in my career not to turn in “sloppy work”, which I took to heart because I secretly desire to be at the top of whatever anthill I am currently attached to.   So I began to construct a professional identity as someone who would always “do it right” and produce stellar efforts.

This worked, up to a point …

That point was when I realized, with the help of several trusted others, that while what I did was superb, I was also missing opportunities because I put so much time and effort into creating perfection.   

Now that I work for me, I am steadily stomping this perfectionist attitude out of me.

The reality is that almost everyone, much of the time, produces work which is not perfect … but most of it works well enough.

Free yourself from the chains of trying to do perfect work every time and you may be surprised in several ways:

1)  Your less-than-perfect work may work just fine.

2)  Nobody else may notice or care that your work is less-than-perfect.

3)  You will notice and take opportunities that you previously missed.

Bonus)  Oddly enough, I find that my work improves, even when I do not do it perfectly every time.

Making occasional mistakes, but not caring quite so much in the Heratland ….Smile


Calling It As We See It … in Outstanding Organizations


On Monday, I shared some excellent organizational thinking about chaos  from The Outstanding Organization by Karen Martin.

We learned that unrestricted chaos is bad …

Now we find that every problem does not equal chaos.

If we understand the problems we face, we can use tools already available and proven to help us solve them.   Karen’s book is full of specific examples from her experiences using quality tools in a variety of settings.

However, The Outstanding Organization has to master three distinct capabilities to correctly identify and deal with problems:  Problem solving, continuous improvement, and resilience.

Problem Solving …

“Organizations, in almost all cases, are formed to solve a problem - a gap between a  current and desired condition- be it an unmet customer need or a social issue.”

Yes, I know this seems circular.  In order to solve problems, you have to know how to solve problems.    What Karen deftly and clearly describes is the process of learning how to solve problems as a core competency of an organization.  

Not one of the technical skills or a semi-magical process known only to a few … a core competency.   Something which your entire organization values, understands, and is good at doing.

In this discussion, you will find two valuable things:  

1)  Detailed discussion of methods such as “careful problem definition, root cause analysis, evaluation of countermeasures (solutions)” and the like, which you would expect.

2)  A warning that investment in people skills, rather than dependence on specific methods, “matters more”.   I like this:)

Continuous Improvement …

“Continuous improvement is a mindset and a culture that is always 0 every employee, every day 0 looking for opportunities to do the job better, even when the organization is performing at the highest level it ever has.”

This might just be the Holy Grail of quality and process improvement.

Karen makes a very telling point when she adds “… even with the best problem solving you can still be consistently mediocre.”  I immediately think of the old joke about the huge difference between a person with twenty years of experience and another person with one year of experience repeated twenty times.

Resilience …

” … no organization is perfect because each one is made up of imperfect people …. What distinguishes outstanding organizations is their resilience to these slips and stumbles and changing conditions.”

Consider Tylenol’s response in 1982 to customer deaths from tainted products – immediate, proper, and complete … and the company and its products endure.  Compare to the song and dance we more often see from organizations dealing with an “oops“.

Karen correctly reminds us that resilience is mostly learned behavior, so any organization which makes this a priority and devotes resources to becoming more resilient can do so.  She goes a little further to remind us that the ability to respond to challenges and changes is “both an organizational capability and an outcome.”   

In other words, resilience is what creates resilience … and that is not double-talk, it’s the benefit of focus and effort.

The more I read and reflect on Karen’s contributions to organizational improvement through  The Outstanding Organization, the more I find to appreciate and share.  

Enjoying a learning journey in the Heartland ….


Author, speaker, and consultant, Karen Martin, provides practical strategies and tools for building an Outstanding Organization. The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon

The Outstanding Organization and Chaos …


When we allow chaos to reign in organizations, we get random and unpredictable results.”


So says Karen Martin and I believe her … in this little nugget from The Outstanding Organization, her new book coming out today, Karen uses one very important word:


Such a simple word, and yet so very important in this discussion.

Martin’s point is clear and valid:  She uses terms like shifting priorities, unclear direction, unstable processes, unhappy customers, disengaged employees to describe conditions with which many of us are very familiar.    She gets no argument from me on this count.  

She further makes an important distinction between two types of chaos:   

What Comes From Others:

Energizing Chaos comes from marketplace conditions, customer needs, and the guys across town or across the planet who compete with us.  

This type of chaos can be useful, because it spurs innovation, competitive energy, and motivation, as long as you don’t let it overwhelm your organization.

What Comes From Us:

Martin focuses on Self-Inflicted Chaos.   You know, the stuff we do to ourselves and which, as she clearly and repeatedly points out, we have the “power to reduce or eliminate“.   Organizations have a tendency to create this type of chaos and, even more important, an inclination to become used to and learn to live with a negative and disruptive environment.

Martin’s mission is to help people in organizations fix this.  Her background in corporate environments and expertise in various quality systems, especially Lean thinking, makes her someone who can do that.

Tomorrow, I’ll share Karen’s foundation elements to begin to build your own version of The Outstanding Organization.

Meanwhile, you can learn more by clicking the title above.  

Reflecting on what we allow ourselves to put up with in the Heartland ….


Author, speaker, and consultant, Karen Martin, provides practical strategies and tools for building an Outstanding Organization. The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon