Kaizen: The Power Of Incremental Improvement

The Philosophy Of Incremental Improvement

Introduction To Kaizen

In this text, we explore Kaizen as it relates to personal development. The concept of Kaizen has helped me to be more productive in my daily lift. Kaizen made me realize that it is not necessarily about the huge leaps and bounds, but also about the small steps in between.

I was having a conversation the other day with a peer of mine as we share many of the same views on consistency, hard work and personal development.

We spoke about people and their tendency to lack consistency in their efforts to achieve a desired goal.

While he had a bit more of a sympathetic view bordering on making excuses for them, I put forth more of a practical perspective.

My thoughts on lacking consistency were predicated on the fact that us as people. refuse to do the work simply because we don’t know of clear defined ways to do the work.

Add to the fact that we tend towards instant gratification and here we have a recipe for unrealized success.

This form of anticipation of reaching the promised land of our goals is understandable, it’s human nature, instant gratification is wired into our DNA.

Mapping out our path to glory then looking at the daunting path to success is a huge contributing factor to procrastination or flat out negligence of pursuing our goals.

But I want to introduce to you a concept that has helped me stay the long path of my journey to my goals, Kaizen.

We are constantly told to work hard, work smart and success will come.

I’m sure these are well intentioned clichés but how do we work hard?

I have never been one to rush anything in life. Ironically, though, I work a lot and fast.

Despite my feverish ability to grind, I am patiently focused on improving myself little by little everyday, even if it is for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

In this article we will visit the philosophy of Kaizen as well as the practical uses of particular components from this great concept.

Let’s get into it.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the Japanese word for: continuous improvement

The philosophy of Kaizen was applied to Japanese businesses such as the Toyota car company after World War 2.

Since then, it has been applied to fields outside of business and manufacturing to sports as well has strength training.

My first introduction to the philosophy of Kaizen was, in fact, through strength training.

Every program I’ve ever written subconsciously obeyed the concept of continuous improvement in small, incremental increases in multiple areas.

For example, gradual, consistent increases in workload in the short term produced huge training effects in the long term.

I wouldn’t just go into the gym, train for 2 hours and expect to be able to lift large amounts of weight overnight.

Adding small increases in weight over multiple training sessions was the only way for me to get stronger.

I also made sure to make constant improvements in the way I trained even if it wasn’t easily apparent.

In the book “Kaizen” by Masaaki Imai, he has this to say:

“Do it better, improve it — even when it is not broken, cause if you don’t you won’t be able to compete with organizations that do.”

Although Kaizen is widely used in business, it is also a way of life that we can all apply in our daily lives on a practical, tangible level.

We know that the focus of Kaizen is small, steady improvements in multiple areas that build on what already is. This is essentially different than innovation, which is a radical change in the way we do things or dramatic developments in technology.

Innovation is the opposite of Kaizen, where innovation is based in leaps of advancements and Kaizen is based in building people and improving systems.

In this day and age, we have wide scale technological innovation. Artificial Intelligence, 5G capabilities, increasingly sophisticated algorithms and hardware, the list goes on.

While these are great, life changing improvements, one cannot argue that it is much more beneficial to improve oneself and the system one follows.

So how do we apply this amazing concept to our daily lives?

The Kaizen Method

The specific business application of the Kaizen. method is robust but I will be focusing in on the specific pillars that I find to be practical in the way of applying the concept of Kaizen to critical areas of the individuals life.

The foundations of the Kaizen method can be found in what Imai’s book mentions as “Process based criteria.”

Process based criteria are important because they are linked to the results they produce.

Making improvements on process based criteria leads to better results.

Process based criteria are:

  • Discipline
  • – Time management
  • – Skills development
  • – Commitment
  • – Morale
  • – Communication

Out of these major components we can educe: The Kaizen 5S framework for good housekeeping which is comprised of:

  1. Seiri (sort)
  2. Seiton (straighten)
  3. Seiso (scrub)
  4. Seiketsu (systematize)
  5. Shitsuke (standardize)

This method is important because the world is noisy.

We need to increase the signal to noise ratio as much as we can by pouring information into the problem channels while using pre-defined processes to produce.

A practical example of application of the 5s framework is putting together a solid piece of writing.

If you are working on a dissertation, you want to produce a strong signal to noise ratio by taking all the research you’ve done and molding it into a concise, coherent body of work that can potentially inform or teach the reader.

Or if you are writing an article for a publication, you go through the motions of thinking up an idea, producing an outline, doing supportive research, commencing a series of drafts until the work is complete, revise and submit.

You would check the results by way of reception from an audience then over time you will make small improvements on your process.

Having a team in between your work and the audience to help with the process will improve the quality of the finished product granted there’s proper adherence to organization processes already in place for production.

Practical applications of Kaizen and the 5S Framework

Now that we have some basic methods of application, how do we apply them?

Practical application of Kaizen and the 5S Framework is a great way to increase contentiousness and reduce neurosis so that you can get out of your own way.

This is essential to becoming a more productive individual.

Let’s get started by referring to the component of discipline within the process based criteria.

Kaizen Discipline

Discipline is the ability work even when you don’t want to.

Edifying the Kaizen 5S framework within the context of discipline allows for a built in process for you to approach your craft.

When you can effectively: sort, which is getting rid of distractions, mentally and physically, you can commence work efficiently.

Getting rid of social media, TV, phone calls, etc allows for you to actually sit and engage your work when it’s time to sit down.

Straighten or orderliness is the ability organize any remaining components necessary to complete your work. You’ll make sure that the things you need to complete your work is accessible.

Scrubbing is the ability to keep your work area clean. Having a messy work area can lead to a messy mind state.

Systematize is the edifying of the process used to approach your work. Earlier I used the example of setting up outlines and doing research in order to provide a solid body of work in writing. This portion is key when it actually comes down to the production of any work you choose to engage.

The last piece of the 5S framework is to standardize the process. This automates your approach to your given work. It will become second nature for you to engage in your process while auditing your process to avoid any hiccups. This is the piece that allows for you to run like a “well oiled machine.” Once you standardize the whole process you take the guess work out of it and you know exactly what it is you need to do without giving too much emotional energy to it.

Kaizen Time management

The most effective way I can suggest for you to manage your time is by batching.

Batching is the process of designating specific tasks to specific days. This incremental Kaizen approach is powerful. It allows for a large amount of work to be completed over an extended period of time without risking burnout.

I was first made aware about this process while reading Tim Ferris’ 4-hour work week.

For example, if you are a writer, you can assign all of your draft writing to Monday then edit and publish on Wednesday.

If you have an audio component to your brand you can do all of your recording on Tuesday.

Videos can be designated to Friday’s and so on.

The idea is to manage your time effectively by organizing what you do on specific days for specific time period.

Skills Development

This aspect can be treated as the research department of any business, except the business is you.

When making improvements upon skills development, you will research ways to get better at what you do.

Whether it is shadowing a doctor or becoming an apprentice plumber or even watching YouTube videos about a specific marketing strategy, skills development is an important aspect for you to improve on.

Kaizen Commitment

If you want to stay in it for the long haul you have to remember why you started and stay committed to that reason. The Kaizen approach to productivity allows for you to stay committed because it allows for you to balance your efforts.

Commitment is simply your reasoning for engaging your craft merged with the practicality of being disciplined through all of the setbacks and failures. Kaizen is set back proof. The Kaizen method allows for you to make step wise checks. This means that if you were to ever be set back, you will always have a plan to move forward.

Following the Kaizen method, you can always go through a checklist to see where you went wrong. You can then correct your mistakes making easier to move forward.

You can improve upon your commitment by finding fresh new ways to keep the imprint of your “reason why” in the forefront of your consciousness. It can be through affirmations, daily journals or recordings that bring you to a place of remembrance.

Morale

Boost morale by acknowledging your past performance in the right light.

This means that you want to always find the silver lining in things that you have done correctly or incorrectly in the past and apply it to the present.

The purpose of this is two fold, you have something to integrate into your current process of application and it also boosts your confidence because you see yourself moving definitively towards your goals.

Communication

Last but not least, you want to have an open line of communication so that you can receive proper feedback from appropriate channels.

In other words, only listen to those who have done what you are doing and have been successful at it.

Being open to feedback doesn’t mean that you accept any and every piece of feedback.

It also means that you start caring about what others think.

Communication should be coming from friends, family and mentors you trust with your vulnerability when it comes to your craft.

Conclusion

Now that we know what Kaizen is, some methods and how to apply them, lets apply them to our daily lives and see how they improve our performance.

Again, the process based criteria and the 5S framework are only a small part of the concept of Kaizen but they are a powerful place to start nonetheless.

You want to apply these concepts then make improvements via checks through repeated application and testing.

You’ll slowly increase how efficient you become at applying this method and therefore what you produce over a long period of time.

Use these concepts to drastically improve your. production in quality and quantity.

The philosophy of Kaizen makes taking a long journey of a million steps much more bearable.

Peace.


Sources:

Altunian, G. (2019, November 11). What Is Signal-to-Noise Ratio and Why Is It Important? Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/signal-to-noise-ratio-3134701

Explained: 5S Framework — Beginner’s Guide: 5s methodology. (2018, November 22). Retrieved from https://www.6sigma.us/six-sigma-articles/explained-5s-framework-beginners-guide/

Ferriss, T. (2012). The 4-hour workweek: escape 9–5, live anywhere, and join the new rich. New York: Harmony Books.

Imai M., 1986, Kaizen — The Key to Japan’s Competitive Succes, New York; Mc-Graw Hill.

Waude, A. (2017, April 12). Conscientiousness, Personality And Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.psychologistworld.com/influence-personality/conscientiousness-personality-trait

About Anthony Boyd

I go by the alias Anthony Boyd & this blog is my series of theses on philosophy, spirituality, physical expression of strength & human behavior through self-reflective spoken & written word. I’ve been a Union Delegate for 6 years. During this time I have developed countless leadership skills that I’ll be sharing with you all on this blog. Leadership is something I’ve develop through hours of research, strength training & personal application of growth strategies. I started this blog with the intention of disseminating the leadership & developments skills I’ve attained over the past 6 years as a leader because there is a huge need for male leadership. It has developed into a conduit for sharing these ideas in hopes that others can gain insight from them as well. Two things have always been constant in my three decades of life on Earth, my ability to express myself through the word & my unquenchable curiosity of everything around me. Combine that with my obsession with strength training, personal development & we have this blog. It is my hope that I can provide endless value, insight and perspective gained through experience as a leader to the readership I have developed here.

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