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Process Improvement in Personal Adversity

Process improvement is about persistence and adaptation to constant change. Something easy to say, but it requires a strong mindset and some heroes to follow. Here, we want to share some real stories of people that inspire us all to keep improving our workplaces, life and world around us.

Rick Allen and Def Leppard.

For those who lived through the amazing generation that was the 80s, you may remember Def Leppard. Rick Allen first appeared behind the drums with the band nearly 40 years ago, at the tender age of 15. His drum sound would go on to leave a distinct impression on modern popular music, appearing on over 100 million albums sold, winning him fans all over the world.

Driving near Sheffield, England with his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve 1984, Rick Allen lost control of his car and hit a brick wall. His seatbelt came undone and removed his left arm as the drummer was thrown through the sunroof.

After being told he would never play the drums again, Allen began a lengthy recovery program that culminated in his return to the stage in August 1986. "I think the thing that was more difficult was coming back, because of this one reason", he said. "I was trying to be exactly the same drummer I was before I lost my arm. I stopped comparing myself to others, stop comparing myself to who I was before the accident, and start celebrating how unique it was for me to play the drums in this way".

Despite losing his arm, Allen soon decided to continue playing drums with Def Leppard, and adopted a specially designed electronic drum kit becoming part of the legend we know today. In recent years, Rick Allen continues to express himself through his artwork, and is currently touring a vibrant collection called Drums for Peace, which includes a painted drum series, mixed-media originals, sculptures and other artistic forms.

The ‘Thunder God’, at his day job with Def Leppard.

Alex Zanardi, Car Racer and Paralympic Champion.

Alex Zanardi, won the CART championship in 1997 and 1998, and took 15 wins in the series. He raced in Formula One from 1991 to 1994 and again in 1999. He returned to CART in 2001, but a major crash in the 2001 American Memorial resulted in the amputation of both legs.

Few could have survived the horrifying 2001 wreck in Germany. Even fewer would have used it as a launching pad to transcend sport and transform his life into an inspiration for fans around the globe. But that's what Zanardi did following his life-threatening accident.

Astonishingly, less than two years later, Zanardi was back racing and completing the 13 unfinished laps from the 2001 race in a modified Champ Car. Over the next two seasons, he claimed back-to-back CART championships, compiling an astonishing 12 wins and 22 podium finishes.

In 2007, Zanardi took up handcycling. He would eventually win a pair of gold medals and a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Four years later, he won two more golds and silver at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. He now owns 10 World Championship gold medals. Zanardi also started participating in Ironman competitions — races that include 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and a 26.22-mile marathon — which Zanardi tackles by using a specially designed racing wheelchair.

Alessandro Zanardi attracted global attention with his start

at the 24 Hours of Daytona in the BMW M8 GTE.

Zanardi, then suffered major brain trauma and skull injuries in an accident during a hand biking relay event in Tuscany during June of last year, crashing into a large oncoming vehicle. “One year after the accident, Alex’s condition is essentially stable,” his wife Daniela said. “He is currently in a special clinic, where he is undergoing a rehabilitation program".

Given the severity of Zanardi's crash last year, this is a positive report, though it's clear the racer still has a long recovery ahead. We know Zanardi has what it takes to persevere. Remember, this is the man who lost both legs in a 2001 CART crash, endured a grueling and complex rehabilitation program, learned to walk on prosthetic legs, and successfully returned to motorsports while becoming one of the world's most successful handcycling racers. He's a fighter, through and through.

As continuous improvement practitioners we teach others to do the same with their business problems. Turn those sour lemons into sweet lemonade. Stories such as these have a tremendous impact when teaching continuous improvement awareness to those just beginning their improvement journey. Life stories can teach profound lessons about continuous improvement, build mindsets, and we can always follow heroes for inspiration along the way.

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