Are you a 14 decimal place person?

math problemHave you ever been in a meeting, training class, webinar, etc. and noticed a bullet point out of place?  How about when you’ve been reading an email and noticed a change in font size from 12 to 10 that probably wasn’t intended by the author.   Now the big question….did either of these bother you?  If so, you might be what I call a 14 decimal place person – someone who really loves details, complexity, and strives for perfection in everything they do.

I admit I’m one of these people, and chances are if you work in the field of process improvement like me you’re probably one too.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; paying attention to details is a good thing to some degree.  Where being a 14 decimal place person, I would argue, creates a challenge is helping others see the value in process improvement, specifically in using lean Six Sigma (LSS), to solve tough business problems that matter to achieving key organizational objectives.

A question I ask quite frequently is why LSS, or just process improvement in general, has not become a central focus for most organizations?  Think about it-every organization of all types in all industries all around the world have processes, and none of them is perfect; they all need some improvement.

So what is keeping business leaders in these organizations from engaging in getting better at what they do each and every day?  One of the reasons, I believe, are the people pimping approaches, philosophies, methods, however you want to classify LSS; the 14 decimal place perfectionist like myself-we are the problem!

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is the kind of people who are naturally attracted to LSS.  We like the complexity and detailed focus that comes with LSS.  However, I would argue, we are in the minority in most organizations.  To say it more candidly – we’re a bit “odd”, not quite “normal”, maybe even “awkward” to some degree, and certainly “outliers” if you look at it from a people data perspective.

Maybe the reason most people in many organizations have yet to embrace process improvement is because of the people leading these efforts, or in my world of consulting, trying to convince business leaders they need to hire people like myself to help them get better at what they do.  So what can we do about it?  What are we 14 decimal place type people to do in order to get others, specifically senior leaders, more interested in process improvement?

Rounding off.

When working a math problem sometimes we need to be precise, but most of the time in business we have little use for 14 decimal places, and can simply round off to get close enough.  This is probably the first challenge 14 decimal place people need to get over-striving for perfection in everything we do.

I’m not saying we have to give up on seeking perfection; that’s still the ultimate goal.  What I am saying is that we have to shift our focus from perfection, or 14 decimal places, to just getting better than we were yesterday.  I believe it’s really that simple.  We just need to focus on getting better, not perfect.

I know this is incredibly hard to do.  You see that “bullet point” out of place and it just bothers you, but does it really matter?  I often have to stop myself when I encounter these types of situations and ask questions such as, will this help who I’m working with get better at what they do?  Do they really need to know about this in order to take one step forward and / or accomplish the goal they have set?  Will NOT knowing this cause them harm?

The answer to most of these questions most of the time is no, but keeping my mouth shut can be an incredible challenge.  I see an opportunity that I think will help, but in the end it may just lead to over complicating the process and push people further away from process improvement methodologies like LSS.  I find that if I ask myself to THINK before I speak often I find keeping my mouth shut is easier.

Before speaking ask yourself is what I’m about to say:

  1. True?
  2. Helpful?
  3. Inspiring?
  4. Something they Need to know?
  5. Kind?

If the answer is “no” then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.  You won’t be helping if you don’t THINK before you speak.  You also have to slow down for this to work because our mouth tends to get ahead of our brain much of the time.  I’ll leave you with some wise words from Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  Your tongue has power so use it wisely!

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