Continuous improvement, in its most simple definition means “to be getting better all the time”. It is not only a worthy goal but a necessary one through life and especially in the business world.
Continuous improvement, by its nature and even definition can imply a linear progression. In many cases that is certainly true. If an environment is static, with no changes internally, no outside influences and a constant state of mechanics. When the environment changes, the task changes. You can work to minimize variability, but change is inevitable.At that point, non-linear progression is also inevitable.
Desired Continuous Improvement path
Reality Continuous Improvement path
Nowhere is continuous improvement more evident than the Olympics. Truly the athletes are the epitome of continuous improvement. Starting from when they first took up their sport, they have progressed to being the best in the world. Yet, there were setbacks along the way and this more than any, setbacks DURING this Olympics have been prevalent.
Simone Biles, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals is recognized as the best in the world. Suffering from “the twisties” and general mental health concerns, did not have the Olympics she and the rest of the world anticipated. After withdrawing from first the team finals and then the all-around competition and several individual events, she came back to win Bronze on the balance beam.
Krysta Palmer, who bested the current FINA Diving World Cup Silver Medalist Sarah Bacon in the US Olympic Trials, was way down in 15th in the Olympic Preliminaries barely qualifying for semifinals. In semis she finished 5th, and in the Final round, won the Bronze medal!
Andrew Capobianco another diver, is the reigning NCAA Champion and days earlier had won an Olympic Silver medal in syncro diving. Come individual competition, he finished 17 of 18 in preliminaries, and 10th in both semifinals and finals. One can expect that his results will again turn upward, but his progression has not been perfectly linear.
All these results on their continuous improvement path are the result of some internal but a great deal of external influence. Affecting but not deterring their quest for continuous improvement.
As a leader, you must demand continuous improvement yet expect the occasion set back and then reestablish the upward trend.
To not do so is insuring an even rockier path for your own non-linear continuous improvement.