The Pearls and Turds of Continuous Improvement

My wife and I watched the documentary Stutz for the third or fourth time last […]

My wife and I watched the documentary Stutz for the third or fourth time last weekend. It’s a unique story that always provides something new each time we watch it. The movie features actor Jonah Hill interviewing his therapist Phil Stutz, aiming to expand the knowledge and use of his unique tools. As a mental health therapist, my wife was interested in how she could apply those tools in her own practice.

Stutz’s passion and zest for life, even in old age and while dealing with health issues, is inspiring. There’s considerable humor in their discussions, such as when they wonder if they’re lying to the audience by making it appear that they’re in Stutz’s office. They conclude that they are, and from that point on, they are just sitting in a video studio in front of a green screen.

Make it Visual

I was intrigued by how the tools discussed in the documentary can also be applied to lean and continuous improvement. For starters, Stutz is very visual. He keeps a stack of index cards handy to draw the various concepts and tools he is trying to convey to his clients. He believes that being able to describe something in pictures both helps him distill his own thoughts while also overcoming barriers with sometimes complex therapeutic languages when talking with clients. My wife experiences this as her client base is predominantly from immigrant backgrounds where English is a second language.

The lean world also has many visuals, such as the “house” of the Toyota Production System, the stair steps of kata, and the sometimes complex pathways of value stream mapping and spaghetti diagrams just waiting to be simplified. But how often do we use visuals, created on the fly in meetings and discussions, to convey what we’re thinking? Stutz does this multiple times in the short movie, whipping out an index card to draw visual representations, with hands increasingly shaking from Parkinson’s.

The Continuous in Continuous Improvement

One of the more interesting concepts is the “string of pearls.” As a therapeutic tool, it helps clients understand the importance of taking the next step in their day, even if it’s just as small as brushing their teeth. Stutz notes that the size of the step or the pearl is not important; each has equal value. If we take the time to find and organize the most value-added actions, we may succumb to overthinking and paralysis and never actually get started and move forward.

We talk about this concept a lot in the lean and continuous improvement space. Finding high-value improvements to work on is great, but even more important is creating a culture where everyone tries to improve every process every day, even if it’s just a very small change. We look up to organizations that achieve greatness by compounding years of small improvements, surpassing the success of those that rely solely on massive investments in technologies and robotics.

Embracing Failure

Stutz takes the concept and visual one step further by drawing a black spot in some of the pearls, which he calls “turds.” He’s trying to help the client understand that there will be pitfalls, that not every action will have a positive result, and that’s okay. It’s important to accept this, learn from it, and continue to take the next action, to add the next pearl.

Successful continuous improvement-oriented organizations also recognize the value of failure – the turds. Failure is not necessarily a negative, but potentially a big positive if reflected on and learned from, with the next experiment, the next pearl, based on that new knowledge.

Netflix has an article on the core tools and concepts created by Phil Stutz, and several others are available as well.

Keep moving forward, adding pearls regardless of size, and learn from the turds!


The original article can be found at: Gemba Academy