Kaizen: How You Can Utilize The Japanese Philosophy of Continual Improvement
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When working through complex problems in your life or workplace it can be extremely difficult to make the right adjustments and stay on the track you’ve intended for yourself. There’s a reason so many people around the world struggle with attaining their goals just as they envisioned them.
Sometimes it’s easier to dream up the big picture solutions than to break down that dream into accomplishable steps and stay on track. It can be a lot to manage, and often people find themselves in places they never initially intended to.
The Japanese form of ‘Kaizen’ was created to alleviate that exact issue. Known as the philosophy of continual improvement, Kaizen is a system and ideology that enables you to continuously grow, little by little, while maintaining a focus on the larger picture. It’s an ideology that teaches us to be more open and understanding to different forms of growth, but also more disciplined in our actions and removal of wasteful behaviors.
Initially introduced to the world as a Japanese business practice, Kaizen has taken the western world by storm for its indisputable success. Toyota, one of the world’s leading car manufacturers, is one of many companies who credit Kaizen for their unbelievable success and longevity.
The Tenets of Kaizen
Traditional versions of Kaizen follow five basic tenets: teamwork, discipline, morale, quality and suggestions for improvement. Together these five basic principles allow you to build the model for who you want to be, or the business you dream to have.
However, the critical aspect to these tenets is that you improve upon them, little by little each day. Often, it’s easy to go through short bursts or phases of self-improvement while falling short in terms of consistency. This never works, and a core tenet of Kaizen is that exact aspect of continual improvement. Small changes, everyday lead to big changes in the future.
Teamwork: a relatively simple concept, yet if the correct atmosphere and willingness to learn from each other is not in place, we almost always fail. This undoubtedly pairs well in terms of business, but in our personal lives it’s important to remember that we also have the responsibility to be a good team member to ourselves. To listen to the different parts of our psyches and acknowledge the natural contradictions we find on the road to self-improvement.
Discipline: one of the most important aspects of Kaizen. If you’re not able to show up everyday, you won’t find the results you’re looking for. Now it’s also important to note the days where you need to take off, relax, reset and unwind. Forgetting to do so is a clear trait of the undisciplined mind. Knowing yourself well enough to know when you need a break is a sign of maturity and self-respect. Undoubtedly it will also pay off in the long run.
Morale: paying attention to what you need, and keeping a positive mindset are essential to accomplishing long term goals. Without morale, you or your business will undoubtedly suffer at some point. Burn-out is very real and if you’re not paying attention, it could be the reason you miss out on the huge opportunity you’ve been working towards, whether in business or in your personal life.
Quality: another core tenet to Kaizen, quality is a simple ideology. Do things with integrity and do them right. If you can’t offer the little tasks as much care and focus as the big ones, you’ll never truly achieve all the things you’ve set out to do.
Suggestions for Improvement: the cornerstone of Kaizen, being open to any and all suggestions is a key facet of attaining high levels of efficiency. When someone (or some part of you) acknowledges an issue, do not ignore it. Take the recommendation and fix it immediately. These small changes are the key to continual improvement over the long term and save you from disaster down the road.
Types of Kaizen
One of the most common forms of Kaizen, Point Kaizen is all about being as efficient as possible. It’s about taking ownership of the issues in front of you and offering them the same care and thoughtfulness as you do others. Consistency is key to success. Without, you will continue to fall off the track again and again.
Point Kaizen occurs very quickly, often and without much planning. It’s the idea that, as soon as an issue is noticed, it is rectified, immediately and by whoever notices it. In the context of Toyota, it means that anyone, whether a manager, someone working the floor at a factory, or the highest level of management notices a problem, they rectify the problem immediately and on their own.
It saves Toyota an enormous amount of time and money to know that everyone working there is continuously attempting to improve the end product and user experience. It’s important to think of our lives as the same. If we don’t want to be facing massive burdens later on in life, it’s critical we work on them now, day by day.
System Kaizen is another form, a higher-level approach to solving a problem that aims to attack a problem in a short period of time. This is also extremely useful for getting over those plateaus we all inevitably face when trying to accomplish our larger mission.
Outcomes of Kaizen
The results of Kaizen can be stated in an innumerable amount of ways, but the basis is simple. With a strong foundation, and consistency in everyday improvement you will end up with economic efficiency, good housekeeping and powerful integration. You will be able to save on time, money and energy; stay organized and consistent in your efforts and goals; but most importantly, your processes will become a natural effort to you.
Each day you have the chance to lay another brick in the foundation, the work becomes more and more of a habit and less of a conscious effort. These small, continual improvements will add depth to your life and allow you to accomplish massive goals over relatively short periods of time.