The Amazing Power of Small Victories

By on July 13, 2016
Amazing Power of Small Victories

Let’s take a trip back in time to when we were kids. Remember the first several times you tried to ride your bike and fell off? And remember the exhilaration of that moment when you were able to balance yourself on your bike, almost miraculously staying upright? And remember how you felt after you did this? Recall how this small victory over the powers of fear and force of gravity enabled you to get on your bike the next time and ride it confidently down the street, proudly demonstrating to your older buddies that you were now one of them.

And remember the first time you stood at the plate and had a baseball thrown at you. You swung and missed, swung and missed, swung and missed…until, one day, the ball comes toward the plate, you swing, you connect, and you watch the ball sail over the right fielder’s head. You stand frozen at the plate, so transfixed by this magical moment that you hardly hear your coach cry out “Run, run.” And recall how after this one small victory suddenly the idea of hitting the ball didn’t seem nearly so daunting.

And perhaps you also remember having a grade school teacher whose favorite word was “wrong” and how you did everything in your power to avoid her gaze and everything in your power to guess what she wanted you to say to keep from experiencing the full force of her anger. And recall that this was the year when you learned almost nothing except how to evade the teacher’s wrath.

What’s to be learned from these types of childhood experiences? I’d say there are three important lessons:

  1. Mistakes are the building blocks of competency.
  2. Small victories are the stuff of confidence building.
  3. Confidence, while powerful in the impact it has on personal performance, can also be fragile and nothing damages it quicker than anger.

Let’s skip forward in time to 2016.

In your company, are mistakes valued, being viewed as necessary ingredients of the process of continuous improvement?

In your company, do employees routinely experience the kind of small victories that build confidence?

In your company, do members of your leadership team understand that observing production and interacting with employees is their most important job responsibility? Do their interactions with employees reflect a crystal clear awareness of the destructive power of anger and the constructive power of encouragement?

If the answer to each of these questions isn’t an unequivocal “Yes” than too many folks in your organization have forgotten some very important lessons they learned as kids. They’ve forgotten the experience of learning to ride a bike. They’ve forgotten how they felt when the bat they were swinging first connected with a baseball.

They need to relearn these lessons. And experiencing a Lean transformation will gradually help them relearn what they once knew about the value of mistakes and the power of small victories to build confidence. How does it do this? By helping them come to an understanding of the power of this simple, yet profound, idea:

We view errors as opportunities for learning. Rather than blaming individuals, the organization takes corrective action and distributes knowledge about each experience broadly. Learning is a continuous company-wide process as superiors motivate and train subordinates; as predecessors do the same for successors, and as team members at all levels share knowledge with one another.” – Toyota Motor Corporation

Henry Ford also got right to the heart of the matter when he said, “All work is an experiment.”

You and I knew this when we were kids. We knew that learning to ride a bike was an experiment: Fall off. Fall off. Fall off. Stay up. Stay up. “I can do it!!!” We knew that learning to hit a baseball was an experiment: Strike out. Strike out. Strike out. Hit the ball. “I can do it!!!

And we also knew that if we could avoid the baleful glare of that grade school teacher who loved to cry out “wrong,” we could learn a lot faster.

It’s never too late to relearn these powerful lessons of childhood and to put them to work in your organization, harnessing the intelligence, knowledge, and creativity of all employees in building a continuous improvement organization. We have a wide variety of Lean training and consulting resources that you can put to work in supporting your Lean transformation. Here are three of them:

  1. An eleven session series called “Kaizen Thinking,” focused on ensuring that all employees understand that Lean is simple, that Lean is about the elimination of waste, and that waste can only be eliminated when all employees understand how to spot it. Employees experience small victories as they spot waste. They think, “I can do it.”
  2. The wastes they spot are posted on an Idea Board, an elegantly simple visual tool that says loud and clear to all employees “we highly value your thinking and need your ideas.” Employees experience small victories as they see their ideas acted upon. They realize “I can do it.”
  3. Toyota KATA” a six-session series of 2-hour discussions centered on a widely acclaimed best seller by Mike Rother entitled “Toyota KATA.” KATA teaches employees to think like scientists, using the scientific method to approach problem-solving, guided in every approach to problem solving by five KATA questions. These questions become the standard work process all employees use in driving process improvements. As this happens, employees become aware, in new and surprising ways, of their ability to achieve gains in productivity that prior to KATA they would not have thought possible. Employees experience small victories as this happens. They believe “I can do it.”

Small victories really are amazingly powerful. Learning how to ride a bike really did teach us some very valuable lessons. Let’s act upon them.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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