Tim Walker, over at the Business Insight Zone, just blogged about Will Smith and his astonishing work ethic. Tim cites a quote from Smith in a 60 Minutes interview:

“I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. I’ve viewed myself as slightly above average in talent. And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping? I’m working. While the other guy’s eatin’? I’m working. While the other guy’s making love, I mean, I’m making love, too. But I’m working really hard at it,” he tells Kroft, laughing.

As far as I know, Will Smith doesn't know anything about lean. However, he clearly understands the notion of continuous improvement. Perhaps even more importantly, he demonstrates a disciplined approach towards making that improvement. Tim puts it nicely when he writes that

many expert practitioners display only a modicum of talent, but virtually all expert practitioners have work routines characterized by incessant practice — and not just practice, but deliberate practice that is designed to improve their skills constantly.

Tim is talking about individuals here, but he could just have easily been talking about Toyota and the company-wide ethos of lean. "Routines." "Incessant and deliberate practice." "Improve skills." These are all hallmarks of the Toyota production system and the people within it.

I know that when you're closing the books for this quarter, or managing a call center, or handling traffic for your client's ad campaign, it's hard to think about developing a "sickening work ethic." Let's face it: most of corporate America isn't built to inspire greatness in people. Hell, you're lucky if you can stomach (giving or receiving) this year's performance review, much less the pile of work your boss dropped on your desk at 4pm this afternoon.

But working on a Toyota assembly line ain't exactly a day at the beach either. Yet there's an understanding -- and an expectation -- that those guys are going to figure out ways to do their jobs better today than yesterday. There's a persistent, relentless pursuit of improvement in the process of building cars.

So if the guys tightening the bolts holding the rearview mirror can dedicate themselves to figuring out how to do that job better, with just a little less waste, why not you? Why can't you dedicate yourself to figuring out how to handle those damn emails? Why can't you create a system that will enable you to find the information you need without wasting time looking for it? Why can't you try a new way of managing all your commitments, promises, and to-do's so that stuff doesn't fall through the cracks?

Will Smith makes about $20 million per movie, and he's totally dedicated to improvement. So is the guy working the Toyota assembly line, and he's not making quite that much.

What about you?