KAIZEN is not some weird branch of Kung Fu, but the Japanese “philosophy” and practice of incremental improvement. Before explaining the conditions and the strengths of Kaizen, and before giving you a practical, fun and rewarding challenge, let’s lay down the three childishly and deceptively simple principles underlying Kaizen (which in fact literally means improvement, might you wonder).

1. EVERYTHING

can be improved, and that should be actively pursued. Do not lean back in the status quo, sharpen your view on what could be better.

2. EVERYONE

can improve things and should be in the game. Do not assign dedicated people to it, make everybody dedicated.

3. EVERY DAY

offers new opportunities for improvement. Do not let days slip away, consistently work on small improvements.

Kaizen aims to make a business sport of improvement. In order to play this sport:

  • [a] the rules of the game must be clear (everyone is expected to participate, do not complain about things but suggest the related improvement, and be prepared to implement it).
  • [b] people should be facilitated, i.e. given the time to suggest and work on improvements (even if totally not-core to the business; in fact no improvement is too small to count), and possibly also a budget to do it.
  • [c] results and in fact also efforts should be rewarded – it is a sport, so give people their encouragement, exposure and prizes. Develop improvement competitions, make it fun.

The strengths of Kaizen are at least twofold. First, the quality of the work place / company slowly but surely increases. Many small steps lead to significant progress in time. Second, possibly even more important, you make your people care and have fun improving their company.

Now here’s an interesting, fun, and rewarding challenge for you: apply Kaizen for 1 month to you personal life. I have done this myself. It is difficult and fun. Take a blank piece of paper (an A4). Draw 30 lines and list the days/dates in the left margin. That is you Kaizen log. If you live with someone, multiply the fun by challenging each other (just draw a vertical line in the middle of the A4 to get 2 columns). Now push yourself to improve something every day! Anything: in your house, admin, at work, about yourself (bad habits) … Review after 30 days what you’ve gained (and/or who won). Note that it should be “real” improvements. Putting the garbage outside or doing something kind wouldn’t really count, since these are not structural improvements of how things routinely were. So replacing an eroded pan does count. You may find this challenge harder than it seems now, and that’s the fun & games about it … go Kaizen this month!

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