Continuous Improvement Teaches Thinking

Continuous Improvement is an ongoing effort to improve.  The improvement might be to a product or service, or in one’s own abilities.  Improvement can be incremental or come rapidly in a “breakthrough.”
Not only is continuous improvement an important skill to have at work, but it is an important life skill. It teaches one to look critically and analytically at the “present state” and imagine it being done a different way – more quickly, more cheaply, more accurately, etc.  AI and robotics aside, at some point someone looked at the laborious process of hand-processed transactions – such as in banks or at airport check-in desks and asked “does someone physically have to do this job?”  In many instances the answer is no… so what are alternative methods of completing the same transactions?  I was recently at an airport where I printed my own luggage tag and affixed it to my bag! (Very poorly, I might add. There is a skill in lining all the sticky-stuff up correctly.)
Being skilled at continuous improvement also means you can take things “apart” and see them for their component parts.  Oftentimes when we analyze various components of the whole we see a potential incremental improvement.  Health conscious individuals like to cook at home – but that requires various other processes such as planning, shopping and prepping. Companies such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh identified those various component parts and then asked “How can we eliminate one or two of these for the home-cook?” Voila! Entirely new business models were born.
One of the “instead of” / “try thinking” statements on the image is this:   I’m not good at this vs What am I missing?  That’s a great way to identify incremental improvements that can be achieved on an individual level.
Personally, I try to incrementally improve my work each year. In the past I’ve spent a year learning more about neuroscience and how the brain works, in order to be a better designer of learning. I’ve also taken courses, read books, and analyzed graphic design in print materials and online in order to create content in a more visual (and thereby more easily understood) way for the learner. In fact, here is a recently released report, by Salesforce, regarding the appeal of colors in our visuals and how they contribute to understanding. It may inform the way you make your slides and job aids for training purposes.
Continuous improvement helps to develop thinking skills because it forces one to not accept the status quo and instead to look at things from a new perspective. When we think about things differently we often do things differently – to the benefit of both ourselves and our companies.
If you’d like to try a continuous improvement activity with your learners, try this Re-imagining the Hotel Experience exercise you can find on our website. It’s generic and familiar enough for any group to use and really helps the learner to separate the experience in to pieces.