The kaizen formula of Aha! + Eureka! =Wow! is just part of a larger pattern, or a continuous improvement cycle, discovered on my lean improvement journey. At least this holds true from my lean journey experience. It’s the Confused-Aha-Nirvana-Darn-Eureka-Wow Cycle, or otherwise known in the back hills as the CANDEW cycle, for short. It appears that we, both as an individual or as a team, pass through these varied stages before achieving actual improvement.

Stage 1: Confused
The Confused stage is the beginning point of all continuous improvement, where we are actually lost, clueless and oblivious to the current state. We may think we know the facts, but in reality we are blinded by assumption, opinion and arrogance. As we humbly open our eyes and minds by going to gemba, listening to our employees and using data, we start down the path of discovery.

Stage 2: Aha
Eventually, our path of discovery leads to Aha moments. Aha moments are where we see the light, everything clicks and we become one with our current state. We reach a point of genuine understanding. What was once hidden is now in plain sight. Often times, we wonder why we never saw it before now. This Aha moment could be the view of the whole picture or just an element of the current state. In either case, it is found most often in the seams or gaps of the process or between the traditional function silos of a business.

Stage 3: Nirvana
The Aha moment creates the flash of an idea, a vision of paradise or heaven as we clearly see what is possible and how to make it better. This vision is nirvana. A rush of excitement takes over our entire being and it is possible to actually jump for joy. Care must be taken to hold on to this fragile idea, for this stage of nirvana is short lived. We will be challenged in the next stage of Darn, where our idea or visions of paradise can quickly turn into just an illusion or fantasy.

Stage 4: Darn
The Darn stage is where we stumble and make mistakes. After walking blindly for so long in the Confused stage, and finally seeing the light in the Aha stage, we naturally try to run as fast as possible to the light. Since we are not used to running to the light, we can easily fall. In fact, it is not unusual to fall several times in the Darn stage, which makes this the most critical stage. Failure is often a result in the Darn stage, and rarely do things go according to original plans. It is at this point that most people give up and even question their Aha moment and Nirvana vision as a neurotic mind trick. In the Darn stage, we may face many difficulties, road blocks and barriers in our path. It takes persistence to continue on the path.

Stage 5: Eureka
As we navigate through the treacherous Darn stage, we will find it – “it” being the solution, the way to make our idea work. We find success.

Stage 6: Wow
The Wow stage is where we reflect on our success and share our joy. We share so others may learn and join us on our path of continuous improvement. Many times, we discover the total impact of our Eureka moment at this stage. In the Wow stage, we reap the reward of our efforts.

Just as I stated at the beginning, this process is a cycle. If we stay too long in the Wow stage, we quickly find ourselves in the dark again. Everything changes, so we must constantly seek improvement. The path of continuous improvement promises no certainty but only opportunity.