Lean Prevents Death by a Thousand Cuts because Lean manufacturing is the approach of many small improvements over a long period of time.
Lean Thinking advocates the participation of many in continuous improvement, over the long term. Indeed, we improve by Kaizen. This approach is sometimes described as “a thousand small rocks” as opposed to organizations that only focus on a “few big rocks”.
Similarly, most organizations don’t begin their descent into mediocrity through large, swooping, events. Rather, organizations begin their journey toward failure through many, many small decisions made over a long period of time.
This is sometimes called “death by a thousand cuts”.
- a little cheating here and a little cheating there will eventually lead to wholesale corruption
- spending money here and spending money there will eventually lead to fiscal pacifism and irresponsibility
- a little backbiting remark here and a little criticism there will eventually lead to full-out rebellion and corporate sabotage
Am I exaggerating?
I don’t believe so: just as most heavy drug users started out with “gateway” drugs, how we treat the small things will later dictate how we treat the big things.
Yes, the cliche “a small hole can sink a big ship” speaks true to our common sense though we might not want to admit it.
A Culture is Built Daily
Similarly, a culture is not created by any single event – true, a culture might be influenced by, but usually not created by a singular event. Indeed, over time, those many and seemingly insignificant choices made by those in the organization is what later sets it apart from others – it’s culture.
Super Sweaty and The Small Stuff
Yes, sweat the small stuff. For those little things can either
- make or break a company
- make or break a company culture
- stretch the company toward excellence or sink it into mediocrity
It’s Your Turn
How are you going to treat the small things today?
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Stephen Stanley says
What you’re discussing is the classic “slippery slope” argument. While I agree, no one sets out to be Bernie Madoff, most people who cheat a little never progress past cheating a little. Likewise, a casual snipe in the lunchroom may be the predecessor of a culture similar to that of “The Office,” I’m not expecting Jenna Fisher to apply to be our new receptionist. My parents often told me growing up, “if you never take the first drink, you’ll never be an alcoholic.” While true, following it would have deprived me of the joys of a good glass of wine or a microbrew with friends – I hate to think of drinking root beer or cream soda at my favorite beer-geek mecca. In a perfect world, everyone would behave perfectly. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world but we don’t live in the “slippery slope” world either. Let’s leave that kind of argumentation to politicians and pundits and acknowledge that these “little things” behaviors are, while not acceptable, inevitable and not attempt to make perfect the enemy of good.