Incremental Elimination of Weeds

Spring is my favorite season because of the spirit of renewal it brings with it.  So here is a post dedicated to spring that is inspired by a comment made recently by my colleague, Menrika Louis:

“I am one with the weeds,” Menrika commented jokingly while we were working together on an improvement project.   She was referring to the nitty-gritty realities that present themselves to us when we are that close to the ground.   The expression typically refers to getting too tangled up in details.   But while it can be argued that a broad perspective may not be achievable from the ‘weeds,’ I think there are too few kaizen leaders who spend enough time there.  Menrika’s comment reminded me of a few lessons I learned from my Dad when I was a tot – maybe 7.

My father had a knack for breaking big problems down into palatable chunks, something I suppose he brought home from his job as a factory manager.   One Saturday morning he showed me the Frank Hamilton method for pulling weeds.   He was not a big fan of herbicides, preferring to use a weed grubber to control weeds.  To demonstrate, he placed a three-foot square frame on the ground and proceeded to move systematically from left to right and top to bottom identifying and removing weeds inside the frame.  He named them for me as he removed them: dandelion (pictured right), crabgrass, plantain, clover, chickweed, wild onion, and a few others.  These were analogous to the seven wastes – they starved the lawn of nutrients and moisture.   “If you get close enough to the weeds,” my dad said as he pulled up a small sprig of crabgrass “you can see them before they take root and you won’t even need the grubber.”

“Funny,” I thought, “the lawn looks so much different at knee level.”   There were stones and mold and bare spots and insects — all sorts of different problems that were only visible when, as Menrika would say, I was one with the weeds.

“But why do you use the frame for weeding?” I asked.

“There are two reasons,” he explained.   “First the frame helps to focus the task so you’re less likely to miss weeds.  And second, it divides the job into manageable tasks.  If you look at the lawn as a whole, the job seems overwhelming.  But in smaller increments it’s not so bad.”

“So when do you think we’ll be done with this job?”  I asked.

My dad smiled and replied, “We’re never completely done with this job, Sport.   But if we work at it a little bit each day it won’t take much time and we’ll have a nice lawn.”

Happy Spring!

O.L.D.

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