People talk often about the idea of continuous improvement. The thing is, a lot of the time it is just that, an idea, nice words without much action. Continually getting better. Continually improving a weakness. Continually solidifying a strength. It all sounds great, doesn’t it? Nearly everyone likes to think that they really embrace this concept. Everyone wants to continually improve, at least in some aspect of life, right? So, why don’t we? Why can’t you observe amazing improvement all over the place, in every walk of life, in everyone you know?
It isn’t the idea of seeking improvement that is the problem, and it isn’t the desire either. I believe most people truly do want to improve at least one thing about their life. It may be their business, or their health, or their relationships, or their finances. The potential list is endless. So, what’s stopping us?
The answer is that we are asking the wrong questions. Let me explain. Meet Sam. Sam is you, me, the mailman, the accountant, the doctor, the grocery store checkout clerk. Sam is all of us.
Sam wants to improve the family’s finances, so Sam says something like “how do I earn more money?”
I don’t know Sam, but I do know you’re asking the wrong question. Having more money is the outcome Sam is after, but simply wondering how to earn more money is not the right question to produce that outcome. To produce the outcome we want, we have to ask better questions. Sam can’t just say, “I want more money,” and it magically happens (unfortunately). Sam must be specific and identify the things that produce more money. Sam should be asking,
“What is the most cost-effective way I can increase my knowledge in the next year?” Knowledge leads to money.
“How can I build a case to convince my boss in the next 6 months that my contributions to the company are worth more than I’m being paid?” In my experience, raises are not demanded or deserved, they are conclusions based on value created.
“How can I eliminate 8 hours of low-value activities each week so I can pick up an extra shift or start a business?”
The list goes on. The point is that to see the improvement, to obtain the outcome, we need to ask ourselves questions that are 1) specific, 2) time-bound, and 3) actionable.
We see this in business too. Someone may want to grow their profit, so they think, “how can I increase my profit?” Profit is the outcome, but there are a variety of activities that produce the profit.
“What actions can I take to attract one new contact to my email marketing list each day?”
“What offers should I be sending to my contact list each week to generate three proposal requests each week?”
“How can I improve my proposals to increase my close rate by 5% this month?”
“What upsells should I suggest on every itinerary to increase my average transaction value by 5% this year?”
Again, the list goes on.
How do I increase my profit? I don’t know. There are a million ways, and that’s the problem. We get stuck in an endless cycle of analysis paralysis. We chase shiny new toys. We search for silver bullets. We are asking the wrong question.
However, when you ask different questions, the right questions, the questions that you can answer, that is when you see improvement. Then you can string together these improvements by answering a series of very specific questions over time. That is when your targeted outcomes are achieved. That is when continuous improvement happens. Lofty questions like “how can I increase my profit?” that have a million possible answers become solvable.
My challenge to you today is to identify a specific question that will lead to an improvement you’re seeking in an area of your life. Your business, your health, your relationships, whatever you want, it’s up to you. Try this. Ask yourself a very specific question. Brainstorm a list of possible solutions. Pick one or two of them. Experiment. Monitor the results, see if it works. If not, try one of your other brainstorm possible solutions. One of two things will happen. You will succeed and take a step towards continuous improvement, or you will fail. And failing, is not really failing at all, as it will give you insight to what didn’t work. The key is to seek to understand why you failed and apply that knowledge to your next effort. If you do that, you can’t lose.
I want to invite you to share your challenges! Comment below and let us know what question you've asked yourself.
So, how do you eat an elephant? Simple, one bite at a time.
Jason Block, CEO Travel Quest Network/WorldVia