If you lived at our place you would by now have become familiar with the sound of my voice yelling, ‘Oh no!’ and the clatter of my feet madly dashing to the sink so that I could turn the water filter off before the whole house flooded.
In fact, I did once flood the kitchen so effectively that water leaked through the floor and into a light bulb in the garage below, shorting the system…
The problem is a very slow water filtering system combined with my characteristic impatience with waiting. I’m inclined to ‘just do this a moment’ while I wait for the water to filter into the jug… only to get caught up emailing or answering a phone call or hanging out the washing, and find that the jug has well and truly overflowed, the bench is sopping, the floor is in puddles, and the shelf under the sink is wet…
I tried to resolve this problem in all sorts of ways. Sternly disciplining myself to ‘stay present!’ worked for one or two water-filtering experiences, before I began to wander away again. Putting the timer on was not practical. Writing myself signs was useless.
The solution came about when my husband hit upon the idea of putting a narrow tray across half of the sink under the water filter. I can stand my jug there and let it fill, and if it overflows, the water runs into the sink instead of everywhere else. Bingo! Voilà! In a flash, the problem was solved and there have been no more floods in the kitchen since then.
The same day he placed an old Ikea shoe stand on the bench beside the sink and stood some pot plants on it. It was mainly an aesthetic strategy, but I discovered that there was a rung on the thing just at the right height for my little water jug to be poised and filled with water, and allowing the run-off to pour straight into the sink. Bingo! Violà! In one sweet swoop I had not one but two solutions to the water-filter-kitchen-flooding problem.
Moral of the story? Don’t try to change people; change the system, and then people change effortlessly.
I remember learning this principle at a Money And You® event in the late 80s. It was Edward Deming, an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer and management consultant who observed and shared this principle that it is much more effective to focus one’s efforts on changing the system than on changing the people. Deming’s management principles were responsible for Japan’s post-war ‘economic miracle’. (www.deming.org)
-> If you don’t want people to walk on the grass, make the alternative attractive and useful.
-> If you don’t want people to bully each other, harness the power of systems. (See my article, ‘Let’s Bully on Purpose in Schools’.)
Deming created 14 Key Principles for transforming business effectiveness. Several of them align beautifully with the point I made in my article about bullying in schools.
Principle #3: Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.
In other words, eliminate the need for a ‘cure’ by having a system that focuses on ‘prevention’: drill communication skills daily, just as we drill spelling and tables, so that knowing how to listen and communicate becomes second nature.
Principle #5: Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
Ditto: Drill communication skills daily.
Principle #6: Institute training on the job.
Am I making my point?
Principle #7: Institute leadership.
A school that takes the initiative in this way is demonstrating significant leadership.
Principle #8: Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company, and
Principle #1: Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, to stay in business and to provide jobs.
In a school context, create a culture that 'we communicate responsibly and respectfully – but we don’t just say that, we walk our talk by practising this skill development’.
Principle #9: Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, in order to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the product or service.
Everyone needs to develop awareness and skills. If the bullies stand in the shoes of the bullied, they gain some insights; if the bullied stand in the shoes of the bully, they gain some power. The exercise I am recommending promotes the development of awareness and skill.
Principle #13: Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
Principle #14: Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job.
And a quote from Deming’s book: "Massive training is required to instill the courage to break with tradition. Every activity and every job is a part of the process."