Perseverance: A Will to Continually Improve
About 8 years ago my wife and I decided to take our then 5 and 3-year old on a hike up the trail near Rattlesnake Lake in Washington State. The hike is a little over 5 miles with an elevation gain of nearly 1,500 feet.
Under normal circumstances, it would have been a challenge, but we did not fully anticipate the conditions of the trail. We arrived at the trail and found snow and ice on the ground. Not only that, the temperature was just barely above freezing. We didn’t have the appropriate footwear, outer clothing, snacks, water, etc. We had been hiking as a family nearly every week for almost a year, but most of our hikes were in the Seattle area with little to no elevation difference. To put it bluntly, we were not prepared for this hike.
Despite these conditions, the kids were troopers. There was little complaint out of them until we got a few hundred yards from the top. By conversing with other hikers, we knew we were close, but had no idea what exactly laid ahead of us. As we let the kids rest, my wife and I debated our options. We could turn around, but we knew that the “prize” was the view from the top. Either way, up or down, we knew we would have to carry the kids at least part of the way. We made the decision to persevere. We each took a child in our arms and climbed to the top of the mountain.
Many of us have heard the “Lean implementations fail XX% of the time” quote plenty of times by now. I am not going to speculate all of the reasons why Lean “fails.” Instead, I want to focus on the one quality that I know for a fact, all of those companies that “failed” were lacking: perseverance.
per·se·ver·ance | \ ˌpər-sə-ˈvir-ən(t)s \
Definition of perseverance
: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Any one that has been a part of a successful Lean Implementation will be able to tell you that the journey wasn’t easy. It undoubtedly took a lot of work throughout, but a lot of preparation before hand would have been necessary as well. Looking back at the example of my family hike, we were not prepared for our journey. We did not properly research the potential obstacles or conditions. We did not prepare ourselves for the toll the climb would inflict upon us physically. We did not have the proper equipment and supplies. Above all else, we did not provide our children, those under our charge, for what laid ahead. To reach our goal, we had to pick up more of the burden to make sure our team was successful in accomplishing our goal.
I’m sure you see where I am heading here. Lean “failures” are many times blamed on Leadership. That statement may not be completely fair. Just as in my hike, there were several obstacles that could have derailed us: lack of preparation, unknown conditions, lack of mental fortitude, etc. At the end of the day, however, the team must be willing to persevere. If that means Leadership has to figuratively pick up its team and help carry them part of the way, then so be it.
A few weeks ago, my family returned to that very same hike. We checked the weather, we brought water and snacks, and we dressed accordingly. We were ready and we successfully reached the top without any difficulty. What I haven’t mentioned, is that as my wife and I discussed our options so many years ago, one of the things we wanted to help impress upon our children was perseverance towards a goal. We did not want to set a precedent that it was ok to “quit.”
You do not truly fail until you consciously decide to quit. As long as you keep pushing forward, despite “difficulties, failure, or opposition,” you will not fail; that, is truly the definition of Continuous Improvement!