Continuous Improvement Isn’t Nearly as Important as Discontinuous Improvement

In the pursuit of excellence, the mantra of continuous improvement often rings loudly. The idea of making incremental, steady progress resonates with many, promoting a sense of gradual advancement and consistent refinement. However, in the realm of true innovation and leadership, continuous improvement, while valuable, pales in comparison to the transformative power of discontinuous improvement.

Creativity is a Discontinuity

At the heart of discontinuous improvement lies creativity. Creativity is inherently disruptive; it is a break from the past, a leap into uncharted territory. A creative act does not merely extend the chain of existing knowledge and practices but severs it, creating a new paradigm. This act of discontinuity is what drives significant breakthroughs and revolutionary changes.

Consider the evolution of technology. The transition from typewriters to personal computers, from landline telephones to smartphones, or from physical maps to GPS navigation systems—all these advancements were not mere improvements on existing technologies. They were radical shifts that rendered previous technologies obsolete, propelling society forward in leaps rather than steps. Such discontinuities are the hallmarks of creativity and innovation.

The Limitations of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement focuses on making things better, but within the existing framework. It is about optimizing processes, enhancing performance, and incrementally increasing efficiency. While these are important, they often lead to marginal gains and can even foster a culture of complacency, where the potential for radical innovation is stifled by the comfort of small, predictable improvements.

Moreover, continuous improvement can sometimes create a myopic view, concentrating efforts on enhancing what already exists rather than envisioning what could be. This incremental mindset may hinder organizations and individuals from recognizing and seizing opportunities for significant breakthroughs.

Discontinuous Improvement as a Path to Leadership

Leadership in any field is not achieved by merely following a path of continuous improvement. Leaders emerge from the ability to envision and implement discontinuous improvements. They possess the courage to break away from the status quo and the vision to see possibilities beyond the horizon.

Take, for example, companies like Apple, Tesla, or SpaceX. Their leaders, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and others, did not rise to prominence by making their products slightly better than their competitors’. Instead, they redefined entire industries through bold, discontinuous improvements. They introduced products and technologies that fundamentally changed how people interact with technology and perceive the future.

Fostering a Culture of Discontinuous Improvement

To embrace the power of discontinuous improvement, organizations and individuals must cultivate a culture that encourages creativity, risk-taking, and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. This involves:

  1. Encouraging Experimentation: Create an environment where failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a setback. Encourage employees to experiment with new ideas and approaches without the fear of repercussions.
  2. Promoting Diverse Thinking: Bring together people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expertise. Diversity fosters creativity by introducing different viewpoints and ideas that can lead to innovative solutions.
  3. Challenging the Status Quo: Regularly question existing practices and assumptions. Encourage critical thinking and the exploration of alternative ways of doing things.
  4. Investing in Creativity: Provide resources, time, and support for creative endeavors. This could include dedicated innovation teams, funding for research and development, or spaces designed to inspire creative thinking.


While continuous improvement is essential for maintaining and enhancing performance, it is the discontinuous improvements that truly drive progress and innovation. Creativity, as a form of discontinuity, enables leaps into new possibilities, setting the stage for transformative changes. To become a leader, one must not be content with mere incremental advances but must strive to disrupt, innovate, and redefine the boundaries of what is possible. Embracing discontinuous improvement is the key to unlocking this potential and leading the way into the future.

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