bridge builderEarlier this week one of my podcast guests turned the tables and asked me a few questions. I was fully prepared for a few traditional continuous improvement themed questions but, as it turns out, the first question, in particular, was very different from what I expected.

She asked, “what is the biggest truth in life?” So, yeah, not your typical VSM or 5S themed lean question!

After pondering the question for a bit I answered in two ways – from a personal/spiritual perspective and then from a lean thinking perspective.

Echoes in Eternity

Her question immediately made me think of one of the best movie scenes of all time. In the movie Gladiator, Maximus addresses his troops before battle. Towards the end of his moving speech he tells them, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.

Now, as long time followers of Gemba Academy likely know, I’m a person of deep faith and most definitely believe the choices I make will indeed echo in eternity. Put another way, I believe my choices will have eternal consequences making it the biggest truth in my life.

With this said, I also believe these same “what we do in life…” words apply to those that don’t share my spiritual beliefs, especially those of us involved in the continuous improvement profession.

Building Bridges

A former coworker of mine, Jim Boles, is a perfect example of this. As he was approaching retirement he told me that the professional legacy he hoped to leave behind was to be remembered as a continuous improvement bridge builder.

Jim believed in continuous improvement with all his heart and knew that, done correctly, it would change people’s personal and professional lives. This is what drove him to teach, coach, and inspire others.

I also believe the work we do as lean and six sigma practitioners can, and will, change the world for the better. This is why I feel so incredibly blessed to be part of this movement.

During his retirement party we presented Jim with a framed picture of his favorite poem which I’ll share below with the hope that it moves you as much as it moves me every time I read it.

The Bridge Builder


An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me today

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

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