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Training Transformations

Finding Lean Opportunities Is Like Finding Planets

Jeff Dewar's picture
Submitted by: Jeff Dewar

Is there life beyond the Earth? A good start is to look at the odds.

The first exoplanet (i.e., planets outside our solar system) was discovered in only 1995, and the pace has accelerated to where we’ve now identified more than 2,000 by using all sorts of exotic techniques to find these stellar bodies indirectly (e.g., by detecting the wobble of a star, which can mean an orbiting planet is tugging on it with its gravity).

These are recent developments, yes, but it wasn’t even a century ago that we thought every point of light seen by our telescopes was just a star (many are galaxies).

Extrapolating the odds of finding planets in just our own Milky Way galaxy leaves us with the almost unbelievable estimate of 100 to 200 billion possible planets. Of that gigantic number, only a minority would be found in the just-right “Goldilocks

zone,” where a planet has liquid water; doesn’t get too much sunlight so the water boils all away, or too little so that everything is frozen; and is rocky (as opposed to gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter) and therefore possible to imagine life as we know it thriving there.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, our galaxy could be home to as many as 11 billion Earth-sized planets in a Goldilocks zone; some estimate are much higher. And that’s just our galaxy; there are an estimated 400 billion galaxies out there in the known universe.

In other words, we’ll be searching for potentially viable planets for a very long time to come. It’s simply unimaginable that some astronomer or astrobiologist will say, “OK, we can stop looking now; we’re done.”

What’s this got to do with lean? Everything. If you wonder how many opportunities there are for improvement, start thinking like a scientist. There’s more opportunities for finding things to improve than you can see, count, or imagine. How can I say this? Because the most advanced companies in their never-ending lean journey become better and better at finding things to improve upon, just as our astronomers have built the tools and knowledge in the last few years to discover exoplanets. Lean companies become sharper at finding new ways to solve problems, employ new technology to increase quality, and discover a seemingly infinite number of ways to prevent problems before they ever rear their nasty heads.

I come across too many people who fantasize about an eventual “nirvana” of operational perfection—where everything in their company is perfect, never decays into disarray, and can’t be improved upon. Ha! That isn’t just dreaming; it’s hallucinatory. That day will never come. The journey will never end, the projects won’t lessen, and the need will never weaken.

My colleague Mike Micklewright talks about the difference between “continual” vs. “continuous” improvement in this clip, and it will help you understand a key part of everyday commitment to improvement (hint: continuous is constant, everyday, and for everyone). Like the search for Goldilocks planets and possible life, the search for improvement opportunities has only just begun.