A Look at “Seek Perfection”

by Ken Snyder

“Seek Perfection” is a principle in the Continuous Improvement dimension of the Shingo Model. It is the principle that best describes that dimension because it embodies the purpose of the dimension, while the other principles in the dimension describe how to improve. This is the principle that best gets to the heart of the spirit of kaizen that it is something that “everybody” does, that happens “everywhere” in the organization, and happens “everytime” (or all the time), as Shingo Academy member Imai Masaaki sensei so eloquently explains. This is the principle which drives all of us on our quest to improve!


Several people have suggested improvements to the wording of this principle – perhaps more people have weighed in on this principle than any other. The suggestions are remarkably similar – and simple. Several people have suggested changing the first word from “seek” to “pursue.” Several people have suggested changing the second word from “perfection” to “excellence.” A few have suggested changing the second word to “improvement.” The combination of words leaves the following six options:

  • Seek Perfection (current wording)
  • Seek Excellence
  • Seek Improvement
  • Pursue Perfection
  • Pursue Excellence
  • Pursue Improvement

“Seek” or “Pursue”?

The reason to support “pursue” instead of the current “seek” is that “pursue” is more purposeful. In many cultures, the use of the word “seek” often is accompanied by an implication that one will also find. But even the most experienced Lean leaders report that you never find. The improvement effort isn’t about the finding but rather the quest. The common dictionary definition of “seek” supports this – “to try to find or obtain.”

On the other hand, the word “pursue” carries with it an implication of a quest. The most common definition is the hunter in pursuit of prey. We have extended that meaning to fit similar pursuits. A common definition found in the dictionary is “to strive to accomplish a purpose.” The change to the word “pursuit” is supported by the slogan adopted by Toyota for their Lexus brand of “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”

We are persuaded by these arguments and will support a change from “seek” to “pursue.”

“Perfection,” “Excellence,” or “Improvement”?

“Improvement” does not describe the overarching purpose of the quest. The word is better used in describing the dimension.

The reasons to support “excellence” instead of the current “perfection” are:

  • “Perfect” is too often the enemy of better. Too often we hear people say they haven’t implemented an improvement yet because they haven’t yet figured out how to do it “perfectly.”
  • “Perfect” does not necessarily mean “excellent.” For example, a person can pay their taxes “perfectly,” in that they can pay the exact amount, with no errors on the form. But it may take too many hours to complete the form. It usually is a depressing experience. Despite being “perfect,” it is far from “excellent.”

The reason to support “perfection” instead of “excellence” is simple – how can we accept anything less than perfect? How can we accept anything less than a “perfect” landing every time a jet lands? How can we accept anything less than “perfect” in healthcare? Even if we have achieved some vague degree of “excellence,” how can accept excellence that falls short of perfection?

Our namesake, Dr. Shingo Shigeo, was a relentless advocate of perfection. He argued for the perfect elimination of defects by teaching the world pokayoke (error-proofing). He argued for the perfect elimination of waste and inventory through one-piece flow, or, as Shingo called it, “non-stock production.”

The Proposal

Pursue Perfection. We’re on a quest. The quest is to be perfect in the value-added activities we pursue. This is not a “perfection” that resembles how one pays taxes. And we will not let the pursuit of perfect prevent us from making improvements as we go – even if we haven’t figured out what perfect looks like yet.


“Build a Learning Organization” – A New Principle in Cultural Enablers

by Ken Snyder     

Before moving on to the principles in the Continuous Improvement dimension, I want to introduce a new principle that has been proposed for the Cultural Enablers dimension. For purposes of this blog, I have named this principle “Build a Learning Organization.” Continue reading “Build a Learning Organization” – A New Principle in Cultural Enablers

A Look at “Lead with Humility” 

by Ken Snyder 

With “Respect Every Individual,” the principle of “Lead with Humility” is the partner principle that together comprise the Cultural Enablers dimension of the Shingo 10 Guiding Principles. Since becoming Executive Director three years ago, my observation is that this principle has resulted in more questions and misunderstandings than any other principle.  

Continue reading A Look at “Lead with Humility” 

Model Changes

by Ken Snyder

A Look at “Respect Every Individual”


A few weeks ago, I announced our intention in the Shingo Institute to look at all of the principles espoused in the Shingo Model currently to see if there might be a better way to name the principle in order to make the principle easier to understand. This blog looks at the first principle to undergo such scrutiny: “Respect Every Individual.” In the Shingo Model, this principle is classified in the “Cultural Enablers” dimension, the foundational dimension upon which all sustainable operational excellence must be built.

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The Current Shingo Model Turns Ten – It’s Time to Reflect

by: Ken Snyder

In 2008, the Shingo Institute introduced to the world the current Shingo Model™ that presented the Shingo Guiding Principles of operational excellence and a behavioral approach to cultural assessment. The Model propelled the Shingo Prize into the position of a true international standard of operational excellence. More importantly, the Model has created an ongoing conversation about guiding principles, the behaviors they inform and the systems that drive them, and how to achieve sustainable results. Continue reading The Current Shingo Model Turns Ten – It’s Time to Reflect

Best Ways for Manufacturers to Boost Employee Engagement

by Dominic Bria, Psy.D., MBA of the Shingo Institute


One of the roles we play here at the Shingo Institute is that of a connector between practitioners of process improvement (by which I mean most of you) and scholars. The research done by scholars ought to answer questions asked by practitioners. Practitioners ought to use research (when feasible) as evidence on which to base their management decisions. So when we have good research to report here at the Shingo Institute, we like to get it out to you, the practitioner, where we hope you’ll find it useful.

Continue reading Best Ways for Manufacturers to Boost Employee Engagement

Employee Survey Pitfalls

by Dominic Bria, Psy.D., MBA of the Shingo Institute


Employee surveys can be useful tools that show organizations where gaps exist between employee perceptions and those of managers and leadership. There are several kinds of employee surveys available to leaders who want to measure various attitudes and perceptions their employees might hold. There are surveys that measure employee engagement, job satisfaction, symptoms of job burnout, perceptions of corporate citizenship, and others. It’s also common for companies to try to craft employee surveys of their own. Sometimes they are meant as a less expensive alternative to pre-made surveys, other times they are meant to measure elements that may not be measured by existing surveys. In either case, survey instruments—the group of questions for survey participants to answer—are tricky things to design.

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Process Improvement Technique from a 7-Time Olympic Medalist

We do our best to bring a wide variety of great speakers to the Shingo Conference and we’ve managed to get some great ones over the years. One of the keynote speakers on the agenda for the 30th Shingo Conference is one you might not expect. She will bring a unique perspective to the topic of process improvement as someone who has spent her entire life striving for improvement and overcoming adversity from unexpected and frightening sources.

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The Holy Grail?

by Ken Snyder

A few months ago, I spoke with an investment fund manager who invests in companies that practice Lean operational excellence. Both this fund manager and I shared our belief that Lean companies will outperform the general market, and will provide a better return to investors. This fund manager made the comment that if we could prove in an indisputable way that Lean improves the bottom line, then we will have discovered “the Holy Grail.”

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It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

by Ken Snyder

I have often heard that “Lean takes 10 years minimum,” or “Where you start depends on where your organization is at,” or “Implementing Lean is an art, not a science,” and other excuses for why a transformation should take an inordinately long period of time. While I believed some of these excuses earlier in my career, I am increasingly convinced that these are really excuses for not having a scientific methodology for shortening the lead time in a Lean implementation. I also strongly believe that shortening the lead time will result in higher levels of achievement in the long run.

Continue reading It Shouldn’t Be This Hard