Improvement Insights Blog
Cut The Cockleburs for Hassle-Free Living
Six Sigma isn’t just for business. You can use it to make your life more hassle-free. Here’s how: Become the CIO of Your Life.
“Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and the QI Macros [software].
“I used to walk my dog Coco on the High Line Canal that runs for about 73 miles throughout Denver. I’d take her for a walk and she’d go running around, but she’d pick up these cockleburs. A cocklebur plant stands about waist-high, has big broad leaves and it produces these little spiny things about the size of the top of my thumb that has little hooky things all around it. Those little hooky things (Guess what? That’s how they invented Velcro), they’re not very fun when they’re in your dog’s hair, So I would spend 10 minutes (sometimes 15 minutes) getting the cockleburs out of her hair every single day. I said, “Hey, I don’t like this,” so I decided to do something about it.
“So I got big old trash bags and my clippers and I went out and systematically, over the course of a week, cut down every cocklebur bush on my mile of the High Line Canal. Guess what? My first year I got like nine bags, and the next year I got six bags, and another year I got three bags, and then the year after that I got one bag, and now I have to get about a half a bag a year because bunny rabbits and coyotes and foxes and other animals keep bringing in new seeds so I have to trim some down. Now what did that do? Well, that… (oh, I can’t even talk) eliminated my daily hassle: pulling all these things out of my dog. So I saved 10 or 15 minutes a day forever… but I also saved 10 or 15 minutes a day for all the other long-haired dog walkers that traverse my mile of the High Line Canal.
“Now, everybody has cockleburs: you may not have a dog, you may not have a canal, you may not have [literal] cockleburs, but everybody has cockleburs in their life. When you have cockleburs in your daily home life or your work life, guess what? It’s sucking up a lot of time and energy that you could devote to something more productive. I’m going to encourage you to notice where the pain points are in your work and how can you reduce your hassle, and that hassle will reduce the hassle of other people. Now, you can’t fix your boss, you can’t fix your subordinates, you can’t fix your suppliers, you can’t fix your customers, but you can take control of what you do.
“It was funny when I was walking along the canal and cutting these things down, people would suspiciously ask me what I was doing because they thought maybe I’d planted marijuana plants on the canal and I was harvesting… No, no, that’s not what I was doing, and then I’d explain my cocklebur theory. When my dad was growing up on a farm in central Illinois, the Chicago mob would come through and actually plant marijuana plants along all of the creeks and you did not want to screw with their crop, obviously. They would come through, and then in the fall all of a sudden it would all be gone, so the mob would come and harvest everything that had been planted… so I can understand why people might be a little concerned about what I was doing. People may be concerned about what you’re doing: trying to clean up the cockleburs in your work life, your home life, but just keep going. Explain to them, “Hey, I’m trying to get rid of this problem.”
“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week: become the Chief Improvement Officer – the CIO – of your own life, and as you make things more hassle-free, it’ll make things more hassle-free for others, and eventually everything will smooth out and it’ll all become a hassle-free America, a hassle-free world. Grand plans, I know; I sound crazy, but I believe we can do it if we all get on board and just start making improvements. So find the cockleburs in your life and cut them down.”