Becoming Less Lean With Discontinuous Improvements

Don is an entrepreneur and business leader with over 15 years experience specializing in aligning management-driven technologies and initiatives together with business and project strategies resulting in thoroughly planned and comprehensive business solutions. His expertise as a project manager, developer, tester, analyst, trainer, consultant, and business owner has spanned across diverse industries such as finance, retail, health care and information technology

“Continuous improvement isn’t nearly as important as discontinuous improvement. Creativity is a discontinuity. One never becomes a leader by continuously improving. That’s imitation of the leader. You only become a leader by leapfrogging those who are ahead of you.” 

-- RussellL. Ackoff, a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking and management science, from a 1994 event hosted by Clare Crawford-Mason and Lloyd Dobyns

A recent Harvard Business Review blog by Ron Ashkenas questioning the value of “Continuous Improvement” (CI) has sparked a lot of debate by readers that resulted in hundreds of comments both from supporters and detractors of the articles main premise. As he proclaims, “Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, and other variations on continuous improvement can be hazardous to your organization’s health. While it may be heresy to say this, recent evidence from Japan and elsewhere suggests that it’s time to question these methods.”

As the quote from operations guru Russell L. Ackoff acknowledges, this is not a new idea--he was one of the first to question the idea that if CI was taken to the extreme, it would actually stifle creativity and innovation. Ackoff knew what he was talking about as he personally worked with (and was friends with) William Edwards Deming, the father of &…

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