My grandmother was full of little sayings she would use to make her point, one of which was “The door to change swings on small hinges.” Her parents crossed the plains to the Rocky Mountains in a covered wagon. It was, quite literally, a journey. One step at a time. It took months. One small change at a time. Some days the horizon looked the same as it did the day before. They persisted. Eventually they made it and saw big change when they finally approached the Rocky Mountains and then the Great Basin. The door to change swings on small hinges. One step at a time.
Many organizations seek excellence. They see excellence in terms of the here and now; not the million steps of a journey, through which trial and error teach and inform. New leaders are often anxious to put their stamp on success in their area of accountability for a promotion two or three years after. There are few organizations that accept the long-term “journey” view of organizational excellence. The compulsion to check a box for excellence supersedes the willingness to develop discipline within the organization which consistently delivers excellence.
If you try to make things happen faster than the natural process will allow, someone or something will nearly always suffer. There are no shortcuts. A thoughtful disciplined approach will get you where you want to be. Patience must be applied and developed thus helping enable one to see pitfalls and circumvent them.
The same is true of continuous improvement. When focusing on improvement, there is nearly always a timeline or target due date. The nature of business dictates such. On the other hand, the quality and depth of the improvement is an exercise in executing proven methods with discipline. This may be painful at first. Over time, individuals and teams get better at finding opportunities for improvement and applying the appropriate methods to realize them. Through practice it gets easier.
Many years ago, I was in a role that required me to conduct manufacturing investigations. These investigations seemed innumerable. I plodded methodically through one after another and usually had 3 or 4 significant investigations going at the same time. More than once I had as many as 8 investigations I was simultaneously conducting. It was a grueling time, but I kept at it and stayed true to the established process. Then something happened. I realized one day that investigations had gotten much easier. Upon deeper thought and consideration, I realized I had reached a step change in my skill and ability. This dramatic change didn’t just happen overnight. Only its realization. It took a lot of little activities repeated consistently time and time again. It required discipline. This was a great learning I embraced.
Another example came in a meeting I once sat in. A woman trained in classical performance of the violin, performed a solo. It was powerful and had great feeling. Everyone in the audience was visibly moved, including myself. I was astounded at the depth of feeling and technique demonstrated. When she was through, she sat, and the speaker got up. He thanked the violinist and then made a statement that has since stuck with me. He said, “I’m sure most people don’t appreciate the thousands of hours that went into being able to play such a moving piece for those few moments.”
A home, a car, a promotion or our own business; and yes, even playing the violin, and doing any of them well, requires practice, patience, discipline and diligence as the skills and behaviors for success are developed.
Famed actress Shirley MacLaine was asked in an interview at the height of her career, “to what do you attribute your overnight success?” She responded that the overnight success she enjoyed took her 25 years to develop.
The Door to Change Swings on Small Hinges.
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