Isn’t it amazing how there’s “the next big thing” everyday? Headlines from blogs, sales websites, newspapers, even Twitter and LinkedIn, carry this headline continuously. How many of these “things” really are new?

Years ago when I started my continuous improvement journey, I read about Deming and Juran. Quality Circles and SPC were big. Then Total Quality Management came along. It didn’t stop there. Six Sigma, Toyota Production System, Theory of Constraints, Lean and a host of other improvement themes seemed to flood the business community. Initially, I, too, was guilty of theme focus. Then something changed. I researched. I found a mentor. Through my mentor, I discovered that TPS is merely the title that Toyota gave its business process model. That model was based on continuous improvement and respect for people. I learned that there is a great deal of knowledge within Toyota that people outside of its system have yet to be exposed to. I found tools that supported concepts, concepts that supported theory, and new understanding of tools from knowledge of theory. I discovered that Lean isn’t a set of anything. Lean is a belief that all products or services can be done better and all customers can be satisfied better.

Interestingly, I also found many little tidbits of insight, many tools not yet in the mainstream of continuous improvement. I found that many of my successive mentors still had many tricks I had not yet seen. Over the years, I’ve discovered those tricks. Some I found through gemba participation. Some I found by asking the right questions. Some I found by listening correctly to the questions posed by those mentors.

Ironically, I am continually amazed at how many “next big things” I already know about. Many things that are being highlighted by consultants and practitioners in the last year or two, I’ve seen (and often practiced) for several years. They are “things” that I picked up from my mentors before. I didn’t find them. I merely discovered ways to use them.

“The next big thing” may be the perfect cover phrase for “I just learned this from someone else.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, my “big thing” was really my personal breakthrough in figuring out what my mentors had been trying to tell me years earlier. Beware of tools and “the next big thing.” If you choose to limit your focus to such, you’ll find that there are always next big things. Open your focus to the concepts and theory, and you just might find “the next big thing” within yourself that will advance your continuous improvement journey far beyond expectations.

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