Continuous vs continual improvement LO19888

AM de Lange (
Tue, 17 Nov 1998 10:20:30 +0200

Replying to LO19862 --

Dear Organlearners,

Jon Krispin <> writes:

>Looking back, I don't even remember when I began
>to pick up on the distinction between continuous
>improvement and continual improvement.

Greetings Jon,

It is different for me because English is not my mother tongue. One day I
noticed, like you, that Demming uses continual. I thought by myself: "Is
English not strange? My experience is that the verb continue becomes an
adjective by the postfix "-ous", not "-al"! Which word is then the better
one?" When I consulted my dictionaries, I was surprised once again by the
power of English. The two adjectives are synonyms, but not equivalent. The
word "continual" incorporates "continuous" and not the other way around.

>I later learned that this was an intentional distinction
>that Deming made, and that he often objected when
>people associated him with continuous improvement

I hate using MSWord as word processor for one very simple reason -- I do
not have the option to view "hidden in-line formating commands". When I
create a document with a very complex format, I do make a lot of changes
so that many "hidden in-line formating commands" arise which are doing
nothing. These commands I persistently weed out because they are
responsible for the word processing of a complex document hanging up
(freezing). When sufficient empty commands get imbedded into each other, a
conflict arises. (Two weeks ago I had to help a lady who lost her PhD
thesis for this very reason. Her backup copies was of no use because they
also already contained the conflict.) Thus I use WordPerfect which allows
me to view these "hidden in-line formating commands" so that I can delete
the superfluous ones.

But it has a drawback. I cannot make use of the MS "spell checker", unless
I go to WP and back again. Thus I keep a lookout for unusual spelling. The
continuous/continual case was a typical outcome.

Jon, despite what the dictionaries say, you do something very important
here. You try to articulate some tacit knowledge of yours into formal
knowledge by using the words continuous and continual. This is an
important phase in learning.

You write:

>So, then, what is the distinction between continuous
>and continual improvement? Continual improvement is
>broader in scope than continuous improvement.
>Continuous improvement is a subset of continual improvement.
>Continual improvement also includes room for *discontinuous*
>improvements (improvements that are not like in kind to what
>came before - another term for this might be innovative or radical
>improvements such as are sought after in most reengineering
>efforts, or in the lean manufacturing movement). Continuous
>improvement, in my taxonomy, is just what Hammer and
>Champy defined above - linear, incremental improvements to an
>existing process (Kaizen). Continual improvement includes this,
>as well as discontinuous/innovative improvement.

Up to this point you make use of terms from your environment (language,
management) to articulate your tacit knowledge. But then you make a
decisive jump to your own tacit knowledge when you write:

>In other words, continual improvement speaks to the
>PROCESS of improvement (always and forever (continuallly)
>ongoing, in all of its forms and in all areas) rather than the
>NATURE of the improvements (continuous vs discontinuous)
>- kind of a meta-level perspective.

I am willing to bet you that none of your dictionaries nor your management
books have said anything about "process" or "nature". I suspect that you
have spent a lot of time and thinking before you formulated this thought
as we now have it. If I am correct, then we have a marvelous example here
of emergent learning, specifically an emergence from tacit to formal

Whether the words "process" and "nature" are the best words to formalize
you tacit knowledge, only you would know. I may be wrong, but I suspect
that you wanted to articulate a "complementary dual" here. If that is the
case, then the words "process" and "nature" will not do.

>To wind all of this up, thinking of continual improvement vs
>continuous improvement may be an exercise in semantics,
>but, at least for me personally, it serves to highlight the
>importance of developing the learning disciplines on a much
>deeper level than most organizations seem interested in
>considering. If continually improvement is to be attained,
>the organization will be, by definition (at least mine), a
>learning organization.

Other may call it an "exercise in semantics" or even "hair splitting", but
for me it is an exciting example of a learner struggling with sureness
("identity-categoricity"), one of the seven essentialities of creativity.
These seven essentialities are necessary for the act "creating" to emerge
into the higher level act "learning". (They are likewise necessary for the
act "learning" itself to emerge into the even higher level act

What you are doing in the last sentence, is to connect (by definition) an
"example of the thing" (continual improvement) to learning (in the
organisational rather than individual context). There is nothing wrong by
doing so. But the next step still has to happen, namely to connect the
very "thing" (sureness) to learning so that the "power of continual" can
take its course. Once you have the very "thing" under your control, yet
another step has to happen so that the "power of continual" can continue.
This step can bifucate into a number of directions. First example -- What
is the relationship between "sureness" (the thing and not an example of
it) and your "process"/"nature" dual? Second example -- Is there other
things having the same role as sureness and what would be examples of
them? Third example -- What would have happened if I were not sensitive
to the thing and its examples? Fourth example -- Is it possible for the
things to exist, but for learning to be inoperative because of something
else which is entirely different?

>Is anyone still reading? Does anyone else see this distinction?

Yes. I enjoyed it very much.

In my own mother tongue we use the words "aanhoudend" (continual) and
"aanlopend" (continuous). The etymological translations into English (via
Saxon) would be "on_holding" (continual) and "on_walking" (continuous).
One Afrikaans-English dictionary translates "aanhoudend" with continual,
unceasing, incessant, lasting, uninterrupted, repeated and persistent.

Second last question. Is the word "continual" the best word to express
what you want to say? What about the word "persistent"? I prefer the word
"persistent". I have checked "persistent" in your distinctions above and
none of them disqualify "persistent". Perhaps there are some tacit
distinctions disqualifying it?

Last question. What about using the words "irreversible" for "continual"
and "irreverisble self-organisation" for "continual improvement"? I have
substituted them in your contribution and obviously had to delete refences
to Hammer, Champy and Deming. But the message in rest of your contribution
becomes very surprising! Try it yourself.

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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