Eddie Jones & England Rugby “mate, we’re just trying to get better” (#46)

Updated: Jan 11

Whatever happens on Saturday in Yokohama, we’re in for a deluge of articles & blogs about the magic of Eddie Jones and the England Rugby Team. My twitter account @leansempai has long expressed my liking for what they’ve been trying to do at Twickenham (the home of English Rugby Union). I’ll get my analysis in early and make only 1 point about the Eddie Jones regime. It’s the golden thread that resonates through interview after interview with Jones, the coaching team and players alike.

But first, a word of caution. He’s not the Messiah and we should be cautious of overstating the case. It’s the players that execute the plan, respond on the pitch & have a clear voice in Jones dressing room (by all accounts). I remember when British cycling’s Dave Brailsford & his golden coach Shane Sutton were flavour of the day. Despite what has come to pass with TUIs and the rumour mill, I still subscribe to the “aggregation of marginal gains” approach. Fundamentally it’s just another word for targeted kaizen (incremental improvement) wrapped in a healthy dose of hansei (restless reflection). In fact, I wrote a chapter about it in my 2011 book ‘Adventures in Leanland”

So, about that golden thread throughout Eddie's interviews. Every time I watch one he unfailingly utters some variant of “mate, we’re just trying to get better” It's the same in print:

“The challenge is how we get better, because there is always a better Samurai around the corner. “We want to keep challenging ourselves. How do we get better next week?”

As magic ingredients go it’s not much to get excited about, but that’s the point. The thousands of businesses out there who have been flirting with the idea of “being” lean but remain steadfastly un-lean fall into a common trap. The words come easy, the daily thinking and doing way is a little harder.

Lean is a state of being with zero chance of achievement. At once, you are both lean & never can be lean if you embrace the central discipline of “every day a little up” (hat tip to Pascal Dennis for this great phrase). You or your business can never “be lean” because kaizen is always possible. Leaner companies rejoice in this fact and are focused on being a faster gazelle on the Savannah to avoid the jaws of the big cats. Un-lean ones, easy corporate words to one side, don’t really believe any of this.

For clarity, kaizen is surely better than no kaizen. Most effective is targeted kaizen towards an image or a simply expressed goal; getting people all pointing in the same direction, pooling their scarce time for improvement work. Two and a half years ago Eddie Jones stood in Kyoto and, having run the maths, knew that the England team needed to step up if they got through to meet the All Blacks in the semi-final. This is no different to a business grasping the fact that it's delivered quality needs to improve by 10% to keep customers or open up new markets.

Eddie Jones has lived and worked in Japan, his mother is Japanese American and he’s married to a Japanese woman, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about his embrace of kaizen, hansei & hoshin thinking.

Come on England

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