Improvement is not a product. It is process. On the journey to improve constantly, you can never announce that you have arrived because there isn’t a destination. If you get certified against an external standard, that is a milestone which can provide a framework to improve further. Organizations often fall in trap of thinking about external certifications like ISO as a destination beyond which they lose the motivation to travel further.
This reminds me of a very interesting story that I read in Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur”:
A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes. A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”
Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden”.
“An organization, like a garden, is a living thing, and the process of removing dry twigs never ends. So, like the monk, the top management can never say, the job is done.”
Improvement was traditionally associated with growth, that if you constantly improve, you grow and prosper. As competition grew more global and fierce, constant and often dramatic improvements have become essential for mere survival.
For business leaders, it helps to adopt a mindset of Zen gardener and build a culture that strives to improve, before competition forces them to do so.
Related Reading at QAspire Blog
– A Story on Importance of Processes: From Subroto Bagchi
– Great Quotes: Gems from Subroto Bagchi on Leadership
In 2010, I wrote a post titled “Enjoy the Process”. The central idea of the post was:
“My point is – if we constantly keep our goal in perspective (and get overwhelmed by it), we become less efficient. Anxiousness (and sometimes fear) kills creativity. We rush through the process to see if our efforts are delivering results. Quest for instant gratification can result in sub-optimal outcomes. Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.”
In his recent post “The Fruits of our Labors”, the awesome Steve Pressfield nailed it with a story of Cole Porter:
“I read a story about Cole Porter when he was writing songs for the movies. Sometimes the producers would shoot him down. He’d play them his newest tune and they’d reject it. They’d kick him out of the office. I loved his reaction:
“I got a million of ‘em.”
Cole Porter was a pro. He knew he didn’t have just one song, or ten songs, or a hundred and ten songs. He had a lifetime supply.
In other words, music wasn’t Cole Porter’s job, it was his career. It was his calling. It was his love. He was in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine (wait, that was Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer). He was in it for the process, not the product.”
Steve further concludes:
“Where is the joy in writing, dancing, film-making, or any art or entrepreneurial venture? It’s not in the praise; it’s not in a paycheck. (Though there’s nothing wrong with praise or paychecks.) It’s in the work itself. The sweat of it and the grind of it and the happy moments when it gets rolling all by itself. Krishna said that’s all we have a right to, and he hit the nail on the head. The joy is private and silent.”
Read Steve’s full post here.