How do you eat an elephant?

As I sit here with my 12 year old helping him to study for his Humanities final I am bored and interested…and inspired to re-read an article I clipped a couple of weeks ago. I loved the May 12th issue of The New Yorker. Chock full of interesting articles about innovation. One article, by James Surowiecki, really grabbed me: ‘The Open Secret of Success’. It made me think of the riddle about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. In Surowieki’s article he discusses Toyota’s approach to innovation…they implement a million new ideas a year — small process oriented ideas. What I thought was particularly interesting was that he states, parenthetically, that ‘Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do.’ Why is that? Are our companies not willing to hear ideas from workers? Are US workers not looking for new ways to do things? Are we less inspired to offer ways to improve and change systems? Are you, in your work looking for new ways to do things that can improve the way you do what you do? Does your executive team offer a feedback loop so you have can have an impact on the companies bottom line?

Perhaps I’m digressing…Essentially this message is that little improvements made on a regular basis add up to major improvements – and innovations. And, as Surowiecki describes, Toyota’s improvements are based more on ‘process’ than on ‘product’, but the result is in great quality.

Same process can apply to our own lives:
Take a ‘constant improvement approach’ in your own life and career –do a little bit every day and the rewards may show up (imperceptibly at first, but ultimately) in new positions, new behavior, new relationships, new insights. I’m one of those people who gets bored easily so I need ‘new’ a lot. And a lot of my clients are the same way, but they don’t know how to get out of the rut of ‘bored’. You know Newton’s Law? An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by a net force/an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by a net force… When I work with clients I often suggest they do at least five things every day that will keep them moving forward. Five things isn’t really that much. (One of those important things can be sitting down and doing nothing — ie, listening to yourself/your intuition.) Think about it. If you’re working in a job and looking for a new position you need to be reaching out to at least two people every day to keep your network alive. You also need to be reading local periodicals in one way or another, looking to learn about what’s happening in the industry you want to engage in.

Activating curiosity, of course, is at the heart of all of this. There’s no easy way to make change happen. Change is a process of small steps, development of awareness and, usually, two steps forward/one sideways/one backward, repeat. Sometimes good fortune comes our way and things drop right into place.

But in retrospect, there’s a slow and steady process of action that leads to the results we all seek — no matter what they are. I know I’m impatient to see results — and so are my clients. We are an impatient society. Just as Surowiecki asserts, this process to innovation/change/improvement is ‘easy to understand but hard to follow’. I’m living it right now…Ok, now back to the Indus and Nile Rivers…