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InnovationLeanService Improvement

Brain Training

4 May 2021

When I was pregnant, I turned down a couple of offers to speak at different international conferences because I didn’t want to fly. Not that there is any evidence to say that I couldn’t or shouldn’t have flown of course, ever the catastrophist, I just didn’t want to take what I considered to be unnecessary risks.  Now of course, I could have most likely beamed in via zoom or such like, the pandemic proving that if you’ve got something to say, you don’t necessarily have to say it in person.  Still, it was hard to turn them down, because I loved my little trips away, the chance to feel important and that I was someone that people wanted to listen to – that what I had to say was valued.

At the time, I didn’t quite realise that there is a momentum to these types of opportunity as well.  One good appearance can lead to another, and another, so there is a casual easiness to their regularity when you are on top of your game and are known. What I hadn’t quite anticipated was the impact that my maternity gap would have on such engagements.  When I came back to work, the offers just didn’t seem to be there and it felt, in lots of ways, that I had to start to build my profile again.  Of course, I wasn’t desperate to leave my baby so it made sense to focus on Cardiff for a while, but I sneakily hoped that one day, I’d get an invite again.

Well it took 7 years, but finally I got one! To speak as part of a “Connecting the Dots” panel on day one of the (virtual) Katacon Europe Conference. I have to confess, I think I might have been a bit giddy from the seven years of waiting. In pandemic times, I am finding that I am even more talkative than I used to be… this is perhaps because before, I’d ordinarily have benefitted from chatty relief thanks to incidental chat encounters experienced at a variety of intervals about the day and from nights out with friends. Working from home feels so isolating and when a chatty window does open, THOUGHTS rush out at great speed, bewildering recipients of those thoughts with their velocity and ferocity. 

Maybe that’s why I enjoy blogs so much. I can shape them and reread them before I press ‘publish’.  So this blog will now attempt to say what I wanted to say at Katacon, hopefully more eloquently, and hopefully will not render the reader to do the above cat face.

What I wanted to say was how much I love learning new things within the field of improvement. Kata, is one of the most important new movements and I’ve written about my initial experiences of it here.  What I love about it is it provides a structured, repeatable approach to that critical part of being an improvement specialist, training your brain.

My lean brain was trained thanks to two repetitive actions. The first was developing the 2 week Lean Fundamentals programmes with global lean experts from across the globe at Nestlé and then repeating the teaching of this 2 week programme multiple times. There was one activity in particular which led to some of my major revelations of lean. At the end of each day, I’d facilitate a session where we’d all collectively go over what we had learned and discussed that day, and I’d build connections between the concepts, to help people remember them.  After each day we’d repeat the action but we’d have new concepts to add, so by the time we got to Day 10, the web of concepts and ideas was vast.  In a strange way, the more that we learned (and I say we, because I learned lots every time I taught that programme) the more everything felt connected and the easier everything became … to the point where I had a solid network of what makes up improvement in my mind. (Of course, new ideas and concepts will emerge, like kata!)

The second way I trained my brain was by playing the Buckingham Housing Repairs game over and over and over again.  It’s a brilliant game, invented by the great John Bicheno, which illustrates how Systems Thinking can improve a chaotic, broken process, to an ordered, effective one, but facilitating it for the 56th time can grate on the nerves somewhat.   Mainly because you know the ‘elegantly simple’ solution in your head, and you have to be silent in the background whilst you watch team after team struggle to reach it.  I have to confess, a certain amount of resentment is triggered because of the high feedback scores it is always able to secure as well (curse you Buckingham Housing Repairs Game my teaching evaluation score nemesis!) The game has trained my brain to search for simple solutions, when I categorically know that that was not the way that my brain was wired prior to playing the game for 56 times.

So anyway, I believe the power of repetitive practice within improvement and how important it is, but I also know that there are so many movements and ideas that are important within improvement and that its impossible to get to a point where you know everything. We shouldn’t ever want to get to that point because improvement is in itself, learning.

That’s what I wanted to say anyway… thankfully, the nights out with friends are back (woohoo!) so let’s hope I’m able to transmit my thoughts more coherently in future!