I readily admit that I’m a person who looks forward to what’s next. I am a person of immense and continuous gratitude for what is in the present, but I’m also excited about what might be around the next bend, the next corner, the following day. And I think I became that way as an outgrowth of the realization that amazing and unexpected things are always coming our way. Stop for a moment and think about all of the happenings of the past week that we never anticipated, how they have impacted us individually or the broader world in which we live. Good or bad, those events were unknown to us last week at this time. I’m good at enjoying today; I’m great at anticipating tomorrow.
During the recent Certificate Program in Nicaragua, I absolutely loved presenting open book management materials to our rural attendees. But with each module over three days, I couldn’t help but feel anticipation for what the next module would bring, so that the participants would see the ideas building upon themselves. And on the last day of open book materials, I was already eager for them to embark on a Lean journey of continuous improvement, building upon the open book foundations being laid. (For the uninitiated, Lean is essentially the removal of waste within work processes, creating labor that is safer, faster, more productive and more efficient.) And by the end of the week, I was eagerly anticipating everyone’s return home, where they might discover application of the elements taught. But I didn’t even need to wait.
Just one day into the material on organizational Lean methodology, the waiting was over. As the day came to a close, as participants departed for recharging themselves and the Program facilitators gathered up their materials, Jesus stepped forward.
Jesus is a member of GARBO Cooperative, the host location for the Program. GARBO is frequently where we gather for workshops because they have facilities for long stays and accommodations for meals and meeting space. Jesus is therefore a frequent face at gatherings, whether as a full participant or as a curious passer-by. On this occasion, Jesus had joined us as a workshop member. He is a diminutive presence, standing perhaps a hair over five feet in height and a slender build to contribute to a boyish look belying his years. His initial shyness is vintage Nicaraguan, but it quickly dissipates in the face of a driving curiosity and friendliness. His classmates tease him by saying that visitors to GARBO always wish to take him back home, such is his charisma and boyish demeanor.
Jesus came forward to ask a series of simple Lean questions: why, he wondered, are the presenters using such a small table for their work? The table surface is much too small for the projector and materials, and the presenters have to store their copies and references in other places, either on the floor or on an adjacent table. Why not use a larger table surface, maybe with some shelving beneath the top, that would allow for easier access, less travel and a better flow of presentation? In fact, wouldn’t that idea be an example of putting Lean improvement to work?
We looked at each other in astonishment. Away from the earshot of the other participants, just a few hours into the material, at the close of a day in which we could only hope that some of the ideas of planned innovation might sink in, Jesus had come forward with an absolutely perfect application of Lean. Better still, he offered the observation to the very ones who had been encouraging the use of observation and application! His suggestions fit the definition of Lean improvements exquisitely. Maybe of greater importance, the lessons presented had clearly been received; we had no need to wait for the following days to know whether the concepts were viable to this audience.
I think our immediate joy caught Jesus off-balance. He did not anticipate that his simple observations would create such an excited reaction from his North American guests. We immediately asked him to share his insights and ideas with the entire group on the following day, as everyday examples of where to find waste and how to envision its elimination. The width of his smile at our recognition reflected his own dawning sense of achievement and acumen. Imagine the moment: the student steps forward in demonstration of his understanding by no less than coaching the teacher, and the teacher, having successfully planted a seed, witnesses its immediate germination. Plans were set in motion on the spot to create the table of Jesus’ design.
Yes, I love the anticipation of whatever’s next. Because there is good reason for great expectations from this journey we’re on. Even our moments of disappointment and disillusionment are filled with the possibilities of redemption. There is always excitement ahead, and I can hardly wait to see what is to come….