Top 10 Continuous Improvement Quotes with comment

1. “It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.”  W. Edwards Deming

At first, this message is comforting – change is not necessary, but the next sentence makes clear the shocking consequences. Life is not fair! If we do not change, we may not survive. Reality is harsh and uncaring. The world doesn’t owe us anything, nor does it guarantee survival, let alone success. Survival requires constant adaption and continuous change. Unfortunately, change is uncomfortable, thus to continually change is to be off-balance all the time. Most people and organizations will try to continue in comfort right up to the time they fail. We must make every effort to continually overcome our comfortable lethargy and seek improvement. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Only successful efforts will determine our survival.

2. “Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.” Brian Tracy

The best place to see the power of continuous improvement is in sports. Athletes spend their entire careers under this grueling discipline. They must push their minds and bodies to get a little better every practice, every game, every season, every year. For example, when Micheal Jordan became a professional basketball player, no one doubted his freakish ability to score near the basket, but he showed little strength in 3-point shots and free throws. Furthermore, many thought his playing style was selfish and he would never lead his team to the championship. But Jordan had one ace up his sleeve – he was intensely competitive. Thus, each season he focused on improving one of his weaknesses. After a few seasons, he became one of the best all-around shooters and defenders in the league. He not only pushed himself to his limits, he pushed his teammates as well. In the end, Micheal Jordan won six championships and he is often considered the best to ever play basketball.

3. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

Continuous Improvement is an intimidating beast when one focuses on the total time and effort needed to change. But we can tame this monster by breaking everything down into smaller processes. At first, we must restrain our desire for action. We must identify where to begin before we can start. Usually, the best place to begin is where the smallest actions will produce the most noticeable results. These results will strengthen our resolve to continue and may even surprise us with unanticipated benefits. But we will achieve nothing if we don’t start. And failing to continue after a good start will mean failure. So plan first, then act with persistence.

4. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. “ – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every great movement is a struggle but so is all change. Every new day is a new struggle. Survival and success are not inevitable. They are largely dependent on the daily choices we make. As the proverb says, “A little slumber, a little rest and poverty will come on you like an armed man.” Looking back at the success of others, one is tempted to see their outcomes as inevitable, but don’t be fooled. Change is always a daily struggle against self, against others and against the world. Without the struggle, without the daily victory, there is no meaningful change.

5. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

There is a point to be made for breadth and variety. There is a place for the jack of all trades. That is the one way of adaptability in changing circumstances. But the greatest power and competitive advantage come from specialization and refinement. No one can perform different 10,000 kicks well under pressure. But we can learn to do one kick well. By practicing it 10,000 times with focus and intensity, we can adapt the kick to a variety of opponents and situations. That of course means continuous improvement, for practicing the same thing 10,000 times without improving is a waste of our lives. This advice is not just for kicks, but for everything in life. Identify skills and processes that are critical to survival, to success and excel in them. Overcome both complacency and hunger for novelty. Maintain, instead, a hunger for excellence and continuous improvement.

6. “No matter how good you get you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” Tiger Woods

The human capacity for self-improvement is breathtaking.  The modern man or woman rarely needs to function at maximum capacity and so creates an artificial comfort limit. That is, improved performance is still possible, but it is uncomfortable or even painful. Athletes and military personnel are trained to go beyond their comfort levels to discover their true limits. Then, they train relentlessly to elevate even those limits. You and I can do much the same. If we can overcome our desire for ease and comfort, then we can double our results, and perhaps double them again through continuous improvement.

7. “The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete.” Mark Zuckerberg

Continuous Improvement is not just for physical actions, it includes every process imaginable. Hackers do not write the original code. Instead, they take the finished code and learn from it. Then they try to see what cool things they can do with the code. Most do this for fun, some for malicious intent. Regardless, the hacker knows that while the code may be functional and good enough for other’s purposes, there is far more that can be done with enough effort. In fact, sometimes outsiders applying a different mindset can create entirely new applications. The founders of Facebook, Mircosoft, Apple, the World Wide Web, and Linex were all hackers. Hacking is not just for things like computers, even processes and procedures can be hacked.  Remember, nothing is ever complete, keep hacking your processes forever.

8. “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” William Pollard

It is incredibly hard to initiate change, so if you embrace it, you will have an advantage over others. Of course in any large group, there will also be incredible resistance to change. That is why most innovation occurs in smaller groups and with individuals. Create a “skunkworks”, a like-minded group who see the need for change and are will to make the necessary sacrifices. Strive for the opportunity to lead and manage the changes you seek. Leadership and management are also processes that can be hacked, especially when others are happy with the status quo. Always work to improve your people skills, for little change can be done alone or with the active resistance of others.

9. “An extraordinary life is all about daily, continuous improvements in the areas that matter most.” Robin Sharma

Aim for an extraordinary life. Once you have overcome your natural desire for comfort and applied the wisdom of knowing what matters most to the daily discipline of continuous improvement, nearly anything is possible. You will find that it is not enough to merely become your best, you will want to help others become their best also. Success, let alone survival cannot be accomplished alone.  We need others to be our best, sometimes in cooperation, sometimes in competition. Any group that adopts continuous change will have a sustainable advantage over others who remain complacent. Above all, aim to improve in critical matters rather than trivial pursuits.

10. “Learn continually – There is always one more thing to learn.” Steve Jobs

There is always more. Even what you do know, you do not understand completely. Try teaching your knowledge to others. That will help you discover any flaws or gaps in your understanding. Also, return to the beginner’s mindset and say to yourself, “I really don’t know how to do “such and such”. Inevitably you will find unneeded redundancies, hidden bottlenecks, and room for improvement. Combine a thirst for knowledge with a rage for order and your life will be one of continuous improvement.

Please share your own ideas in the comment section below. I will try to respond within 24 hours. Thanks!

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4 Responses

  1. Kashia says:

    I thought the first part of Deming’s quote was going to advocate for not needing to change, but that second bit hit hard.

    I think some people can get so caught up in their comfort zone that it’s hard to change and get better than where they are currently.

    But I think most of that is because of fear, being scared of what you don’t know can happen if you decide to change or adapt to new things.

    • Peter says:

      Sure, there is a lot fear. I guess the fear comes from a fear of failure. What if I try my hardest and I still fail? Then I am really a loser. But if I try a little and then stop, I can imagine that I could have succeeded if I really wanted to. That is the way we make excuses to protect ourselves. 

  2. Igor says:

    Hi Peter!
    Another great post!

    The life is every day’s challenge. Every day is one opportunity to make the best of it, regardless of what you are doing.
    There are so many people around the globe with so many different destinies! In all these diversity, there as also so many common things to the humans.

    It is a big philosophical and social topic.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Best regards!

    • Peter Barban says:

      Yes, Igor, you are so right. I have spent half my life in America and half in Asia. Life is full of variety and yet we are all human. We have the same basic needs and desires. As you say, let’s make the best of it.

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