It Is What It Is…But It Doesn’t Have To Be

I finished John Kotter’s The Heart of Change, and one of the things I ended up enjoying most about it was the way real-life stories were used to drive home the theory of what he was saying. I suppose that’s not unexpected, coming from a book that encourages storytelling as one of the most powerful tools we have. One of the stories, however, stood out to me. The story centers around the manufacturing of airplanes – a large and complex task that involves many people. For years, the plane was assembled one station at the time, and if the parts weren’t at the appropriate station at the right time, they would be added at the end. This last step in the process would require the undoing and then redoing of anything that happened after the part was originally supposed to be added, which ended up costing time and money. The rationale was that delivery of the parts was out of the plant’s control, so there was nothing the manufacturer could do.

When a new CEO came on board, one of the first changes he made was to put an end to this process. He told the employees that the plane would not move down the assembly line until it was properly finished at each station. For so long, it had been deemed impossible for such a thing to happen and the inefficiency of the process had become accepted as the only way things could actually get done. However, the visual of the plane just sitting at one of the stations was a powerful motivator to change the way things were done. As people pushed suppliers and found different ways to work, a newer and more efficient way of assembling planes emerged.

I like this story because I think far too often we accept things the way they are and come to believe change isn’t possible. In this case, it was someone who questioned the process and used a powerful visual to make an impact. In my experience, I’ve found that sometimes simply asking the right question is enough to spark change. But most of all, we need to stop accepting frustration and inefficiency as the way things happen. Most people would prefer things were easier and less complicated to get done, so it’s not as hard a sell as we think it is. What’s getting in your way and keeping you from working more efficiently? What’s slowing you down and making life harder?

p.s. In addition to finishing The Heart of Change, I’ve also continued my Gillian Flynn kick and finished Dark Places. It’s a quick read if you’re looking for a dark story that keeps you guessing. Her Sharp Objects is up next for me, along with Uncontainable by Kip Tindell, Chairman & CEO of The Container Store. Will keep you posted!

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