On a recent vacation trip, I looked in the rear-view mirror and to see a State Police car telling me to pull over. Not having seen those flashers in 38 years, it was an unfamiliar experience for me.
I pulled my driver’s license out of my wallet and awaited the officer to appear at my window. I had forgotten that he was also going to ask for my car registration and insurance certificate; this meant a quick dive into my glove compartment while he loomed large to my left. The glove box had insurance certificates for 1998, 2002, 2003 but no 2008. I fumbled through old oil change receipts, extra fast food napkins, two tire pressure gauges and CD player instructions but found no current insurance certificate. Growing impatient, the officer said “Let me just check out this other stuff and you keep looking.” He headed back to his squad car. I finally found what I needed but was left with quite a mess as I sat and waited.
Eventually, the officer returned with a speeding ticket and an encouragement to “be safe.” I drove on and had plenty of time to reflect. What did this teach me?
5S applies everywhere. The obvious lesson was the mess in my glove box. I had way too many napkins (“just in case” I had a big spill, I had told myself). This excess inventory cluttered the limited space. I also had no labeling system for the crucial documents I needed, by law, to have at my fingertips. The officer could have concluded my sloppiness in the car could further indicate sloppiness in my entire driving record.
Failure of standard work. More broadly, I had done “non-standard work” on the road by exceeding the speed limit. The fact I disagreed with the officer on the degree to which I was “non-standard” did not change the fact I knew I was speeding. And, by doing non-standard work, I significantly lengthened the time it took me to reach my destination.
The audit process. In my day job, I’m often assessing standard work, trying to point out non-standard work. This experience on the highway was useful as it put me on the other side of the coin. It wasn’t fun having non-standard work pointed out to me, even when I knew it was an accurate assessment. It gives me more empathy on how to point out non-standard work.
One problem can point out another. By speeding, I was forced to find another, less obvious, problem; the mess in my glove box. There is a chain reaction when we pursue excellence. That’s a good thing.
Future prevention. Not surprisingly, I was a very careful driver for the remaining 12 hours of driving on this trip. As noble as many of us may think we will be, not needing any checkup, this thought is often an illusion. I haven’t had a speeding ticket since I was a senior in high school; I was pushing the limit. I needed a correction. And the remaining trip was clear and uneventful. At the speed limit.
Learning opportunities are everywhere, sometimes decorated with red and blue flashing lights. Don’t miss them.
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