The First Continuous Improvement Manager

Mention the name Socrates and some people may think of the Brazilian footballer of the 80’s or, more likely, his ancient Greek philosopher namesake.

While Socrates of the 80’s was undoubtedly a great footballer his achievements are rightly overshadowed by the man many people call the father of western philosophy. So far, so what’s this got to do with Continuous Improvement you ask?

Well, most people recognise Socrates as a philosopher but very few people really know about the man and his ideas. Socrates died in 399BC, not from old age as you might expect but condemned to death by the state on the charges of heresy and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens. What did he do that was so terrible? He dared to challenge the status quo.

Socrates never wrote anything down (not a great example for today). Much of what we know comes from other writers of the time. What we do know is that Socrates liked nothing more than to spend time in the centre of Athens talking to people, debating and asking questions. This is what got him into trouble with the authorities.

As a CI Manager it’s my job to ask questions, poke and prod around processes and activities, find the root cause of problems and challenge people’s ways of thinking and working. This is the very heart of Socratic Method. To solve a problem it is broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually reveal the answer.

Innovation, improvement and change always come from questioning, from challenging the norm; why do we do things this way? or what would happen if we did this?

Tools, techniques and methodologies are great and help us to make changes but as Socrates showed more than two thousand years ago the most important tool is an enquiring mind.

We can all be like Socrates, the first Continuous Improvement Manager, if we have the courage to ask the difficult questions (why, what, how) and challenge the status quo head on. You will come up against resistance but unlike Socrates you are unlikely to be sentenced to death by drinking poison!