CANI - One step at a timeCANI (or “Can I”) is something that I learned from Tony Robbins some 10 years ago while driving to my office before TrainSignal really got started. I downloaded a lot of Tony Robbins’ PowerTalks from Audible and listened to these for motivation and knowledge. CANI stands for Constant And Never-ending Improvement.

The basic principle is to break a big goal down into parts and make lots of small, easy to achieve improvements that lead to big results. Or simply, get a little bit better every day.

CANI is similar to Japanese Kaizen principles, popularized by William Edwards Deming. Kaizen, loosely translated, means “change for the better” or “change is good”.

Toyota is well known for utilizing the principles of Kaizen. At Toyota, all employees are encouraged to find new ways to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Departmental meetings are conducted to discuss system improvements and ways to make the company more efficient.

CANI also has a lot in common with SCRUM, Agile Development and even Lean Methodologies, which are all very trendy right now.

How YOU can use CANI to get better

A very simple example is losing weight. Dropping 20 pounds might seem daunting and after a few weeks of losing only a few pounds, you might grow wary of the exercise and diet. However, if you break this down into smaller goals, such as 4 pounds per month, or even better, 1 pound per week, your mind will be much better conditioned to accept small improvements over a longer period of time.

By achieving your first goal, you are more likely to work on your next goal of losing 1 pound the following week. The key is to take action, celebrate the small improvements and achieve forward momentum.

CANI is especially powerful with less tangible goals or “someday maybe” type of dreams. For example, you might have a goal of speaking at SXSW, TED or some other big conference, but right now you are uncomfortable with public speaking and don’t even like leading a conversation amongst friends. Setting a specific goal is great (e.g. I’ll speak at the 2014 Ted conference) but the small, incremental improvement goals are critical.

What can you do today, this week or this month to start your forward momentum? You might attend a networking event, participate in a Toastmasters group or randomly strike up conversation in a elevator. They key is to set up a “next action” that is small enough to fit into your schedule and not be intimidating. You have to take the first step to CANI. Get the forward momentum going!

Do my employees think I’m an idiot?

I introduced CANI to TrainSignal in an all-hands meeting several years ago. I casually described what CANI was and how we might use it at TrainSignal. My first impression was that I had made very little impact and people thought I was an idiot. Over the next year, CANI found its way into several more company meetings and became part of my general business vocabulary. TS employees were now very aware of CANI and what it meant, but I think it became a little bit of a joke; “what cheesy, motivational acronym will the knucklehead CEO think of next?”.

I continued to push CANI in meetings, but I also started integrating it into goals and business planning. A funny thing happened about a year ago. I heard an employee casually use “CANI” in a conversation with another employee. And then over the next few months, I noticed that it was part of departmental planning and presentations. CANI had made its way into general TrainSignal discussions and culture. Very cool! People were actually buying in to “my” word and philosophy

CANI-ing our Product

The CANI mindset is used throughout the company and applied to many of our projects and day to day tasks. However, the greatest impact CANI has had on TrainSignal has been with our product teams and our product. From the very beginning of TrainSignal, I have been all about creating a ridiculously, awesome product that people love. However, my ridiculously, awesome product that I first created in 2002 is no where near as good as the products we are producing now, 10 years later. The reason of course, is CANI.

Every TrainSignal employee knows what are product expectations are, but it is also part of our culture to always be looking for ways to improve our product and the process we use to create it. Many, many, MANY, small changes have been made to our product over the years. Most of these changes are minor and inconsequential by themselves, but collectively, you would notice a big difference in our product now, compared to even one year ago.

I can’t stress the CANI mindset enough when it comes to your product. The “greatness bar” is always moving higher and if you are not innovating, your customers are going to leave you for your competitors who are making their product better.

Taking CANI to the next level

Yes, CANI is about breaking big goals down into smaller, easier to digest goals, but it is also about a mindset. Being great, ridiculously awesome or whatever you call it takes a commitment to excellence. You have to love change, getting your hands dirty and moving things forward…every day and every week.

It is CONSTANT…and never ending improvement. Remember? Get your forward momentum going and keep it going! How do you make yourself, your company or other people better? Do you do it every day? If you want to be exceptional at what you do, then you HAVE TO CANI…or die.