Riding the Waves of Continuous Improvement

Hamster on a Wave

True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.” ~ Tom Robbins, American Novelist

Having recently completed the five week course, or MOOC, on Exploring Personal Learning Networks, I found my way to the follow-up community, Learning and Change, hosted by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott.  Already the conversation has inspired my thinking!  This week my thoughts are inspired by a post from community member Vahid Masrour.  In his post in Designing for Change, Vahid poses the questions such as:  How do we deal with the ever-evolving-organization challenge?  How can we shift to being fluid and flexible while still being manageable?  How can we cultivate innovation when our organizations are grounded in stability and predictability through processes?

And how does learning and development fit into all of this?

The connection I made as I thought about this is that much of our corporate structures and environments actually “mirrors” our education structures and environments.  Granted, both education and corporations have become more creative and innovative in the past few years.  And I’m sure we all have had that one teacher, professor, manager, or colleague who was creative and inspiring.  I know I did!  And organizations are starting to see more and more value in encouraging creativity and innovation.  But look at what our K-12 education foundation is built on – structure and process.

I’m often reminded, as a visual, of the video for Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall where students go into the “machine” as individuals and come out as duplicates, or copies, of what the system is cranking out.  Or even Supertramp’s The Logical Song.  (If you can’t tell, I like my British rock music.)  We enter the “system” coloring our trees orange, the sky purple, and the grass blue.  Then we are taught to “color inside the lines” and use the “correct colors”.  We need to be what “society” wants us to be.  We are conditioned to “think inside the box”.  So we carry this mindset with us into the workforce, where we are told to, “Think outside the box!  Be innovative!  Be creative!”  After 12-20+ years of conditioning, easier said than done.

That’s why I’m thankful for the people who managed to keep their creativity, their curiosity throughout school and into the work environment.  They have the mindset we need to push the limits and make the changes that are needed.  They have what we need in our environments to invigorate us and keep us moving forward.  And I’m thankful that I have friends and colleagues in my network with this mindset!

So going back to the question of how can we deal with the ever-changing-organization, I go a keynote speaker at the 2013 Southeast Wisconsin Learning Leaders Conference I attended earlier this year hosted at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI.  Matt Levatich, COO for H-D, spoke about the four strategic pillars for the Harley Davidson company: Growth, Leadership Development, Continuous Improvement, and Sustainability.  What Matt had to say about Continuous Improvement is what inspired me the most.  What H-D has built into their culture is the mindset of continuous improvement – not managing change.

Change has a beginning and an end.  Change is about process.  And processes need to change to keep up with new discoveries and ideas in science, health, technology, and more.  When we are faced with change after change after change, many of us can get tired, frustrated, disengaged.  Also known as Change Fatigue.  But with a mindset of continuous improvement, we see the potential and possibility.  We see opportunity for making something better, for ourselves and for others.  And who doesn’t want things to be better?!  The perspective on change has…changed!

But how do we do this?  How do we shift the mindset of hundreds, even thousands, of people to look at never-ending change as continuous improvement rather than the latest change project?  And how can learning and development play a part?  There are many ways we can go about this.  But I’ll share three:

  1. Start with the Self – We shift our own mindset first.  And when we do, those around us will pick up on this.  This can be something as simple as building in affirmation rituals, reading books and articles, attending seminars, or talking with others with this mindset.
  2. Play – Play with our kids, play games, play with toys!  As L&D designers and facilitators, we can build play into classes and facilitated sessions.  I’ve used Tinker Toys many times to encourage play and demonstrate a point.
  3. Renew & Reflect – Take intentional down time.  Disconnect. Do something that reenergizes you and gives you a chance to reflect.  Reflect on what you do, see, or hear about.  Reflect on potential and possibility.

If we can just try these three things as a start, then, maybe slowly at first, the mindset may spread.  So rather than trying to boil the ocean, we toss in the pebble and let the ripples take effect.  And we can do this through learning and development.  Opening ourselves up to learning new information, new ideas, new technologies (even social technologies).  And then we help others learn, maybe casually, through our networks.  Or even formally through the sessions we design and/or facilitate.  Or somewhere in between.

I don’t have all the answers.  But I do know that much of my current mindset is a result of opening myself up to learning from the various, diverse people in my network.  Most of these people I consider true friends.  As one of those true friends just reminded me, we are constantly learning from each other.  And in times of seeming instability, even complete upheaval, our strengths in our learning and our relationships, will help us to keep our balance and embrace the changes – um, improvements – ahead.

This is just a start.  But I am reminded of a perspective I shared a couple of years ago as our organization was going through some major changes.  Stability isn’t about digging in your heals and holding your ground.  Stability is about being able to keep your balance, even picking yourself back up, as the ground beneath your shifts.  This way we can be fluid and flexible, get off the hamster wheel, and ride the waves of continuous improvement.

What are your thoughts?  What is your mindset?

Image courtesy of Flickr