Balancing New Year’s Resolutions with Continuous Improvement

Happy New Year to all my blog readers. Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? Broken any yet?

Certainly an interesting tradition that goes back to ancient Babylonia, New Year’s Resolutions are essentially about Continuous Improvement metrics. We set goals to improve and in general, we set a timetable to achieve those improvements (one year?). Livescience tells us that 4000 years ago, the Babylonians used the New Year to swear allegiance to an old King, or a new one if a change had taken place.

4000 years later, habits and practices are our “kings”. Which ones do we swear allegiance to and which of the old “kings” are we replacing?

While Continuous Improvement, by definition, should not be a once a year event, it is a good time to take account of what we’re doing better and what needs to be recommitted. Also by definition, Continuous Improvement is Change, and as readers to my blog have often read, Change is very hard to implement – it takes added energy and time. It involves risk – it can be very unsettling.

However, those perspectives are short-sighted. Nineteenth century Scottish physicist John Playfair observed that the forces that tend to preserve, and those which tend to change, are never in balance and it is the forces which tend to change that are the most powerful.

Evolution occurs all the time; in nature as well as in business. Those that refuse to adapt to the new environment eventually become extinct. As an example, ten years ago, the design and construction of newspaper printing plants was The Austin Company’s largest single market. The annual tradeshow for this market, NEXPO, was held in the nation’s largest convention halls where hundreds of millions of dollars of sales were announced every year. Within a short two-year time period, NEXPO was held in the ballroom of a Las Vegas hotel and was attended mostly by vendors wondering what they were going to do next.

My point here is that virtually every aspect of your business is subject to evolutionary forces. Accounting, sales, construction, safety, IT, engineering, legal, etc., all encounter changes each year. Is your culture one that is “a force to preserve”? Or is it one that is more capable to adapt to change? Or is it one that is strives to control its own destiny and is maybe causing the evolution?

In his book, Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It, Ichak Adizes identifies ten stages of corporate development and plots them on a bell curve. Starting with Courtship and ending with Death, the peak cycle is Prime. “With a renewed clarity of vision, companies establish an even balance between control and flexibility. Everything comes together. Disciplined yet innovative, companies consistently meet their customers' needs. New businesses sprout up within the organization and they are decentralized to provide new life-cycle opportunities.” A key challenge is managing the give and take between control and flexibility where various elements in the organization each have excellent rationale for greater control, or greater flexibility.

A vibrant culture of Continuous Improvement within an organization provides a fertile environment for the debate between control and flexibility to take place. It sets the perspective that change is not being proposed for the sake of change, but it is being pursued to be better prepared for the future and what it might bring.

So we use calendar years to mark the passing of time and the changes we all encounter as we evolve. We all must resolve to do better at adapting to those forces that tend to change, because the alternative is not desirable. We basically have three options: die, survive or thrive. I prefer the thriving one. The other two are basically the same except for the time span.

Best wishes for a prosperous and continuously improving 2015.


“According to my view, our behavior and decisions are driven by a composition of the three categories: either by what we want to do, and/or by what we believe we should do, and/or by what needs to be done, i.e, by what is going on; by reality. Our behavior is not totally logical, i.e. driven by the should, nor totally hedonistic, i.e. focused solely on the want, nor are we pure realists driven only by the is.

Life is messy. All three perceptions play a role in decision making, and the result is that we are often confused and conflicted about what to do.”

Ichak Adizes


“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

Helen Keller


“Evolution is a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill. The ball is made of flakes—circumstances. They contribute to the mass without knowing it. They adhere without intention, and without foreseeing what is to result. When they see the result they marvel at the monster ball and wonder how the contriving of it came to be originally thought out and planned. Whereas there was no such planning, there was only a law: the ball once started, all the circumstances that happened to lie in its path would help to build it, in spite of themselves.”

Mark Twain