Today I will talk about a concept called kaizen which Japanese have used for a while. I stumbled upon this concept while researching about financial success. I stumbled upon the work of Warren Buffett. He said something along the line of, “knowledge compounds over time just like money”. At first, I was confused about how can knowledge compound? It seemed weird until I stumbled upon the concept of kaizen.
Kaizen is captured in this familiar but powerful saying:
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.” -Lao Tzu
Kaizen concept was first applied in America during the depression era to improve manufacturing productivity during the world war. The US government created management courses called Training within industries (TWI) for American corporations. One of these courses led to the idea of known as Kaizen.
The training within industries (TWI) courses encouraged corporation managements to focus not on innovation, but focus on hundreds of small things they could improve on. Everyone from top to bottom of the corporation was encouraged to find little ways to increase the quality of their product and the efficiency of creating it. Suggestion boxes were positioned on factory floors so that line workers could suggest ways to improve productivity, and executives were obliged to treat each of these comments with great respect.At first, this philosophy must have seemed shockingly inadequate under the circumstances but, somehow, these little steps added up to a brilliant acceleration of America’s manufacturing capacity. The quality of American equipment and the speed of its production were two of the major factors in the Allied victory.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens-and when it happens, it lasts. ” -John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball
Here is an excerpt about kaizen transforming the Japanese businesses from the book: One Small Step Can Change Your Life
Post war the Japanese businesses were run poorly, with slack management practices and low employee morale.
General MacArthur saw the need to improve Japanese efficiency and raise business standards. A thriving Japanese economy was in MacArthur’s best interest because a strong society could provide a bulwark against a possible threat from North Korea and keep his troops in steady supplies. He brought in the U.S. government’s TWI specialists, including those who emphasized the importance of small, daily steps toward change. And, at the same time that MacArthur was holding forth on small steps, the U.S. Air Force developed a class in management and supervision for the Japanese businesses near one of its local bases. The class was called the Management Training Program (MTP), and its tenets were almost identical to those developed by Dr. Deming and his colleagues at the beginning of the war. Thousands of Japanese business managers were enrolled. The Japanese were unusually receptive to this idea. Their industrial base destroyed, they lacked the resources for sweeping reorganization. And it wasn’t lost on Japanese business leaders that their country had been defeated by America’s superior equipment and technology-so they listened closely to the Americans’ lessons on manufacturing. Viewing employees as a resource for creativity and improvement and learning to he receptive to subordinates’ ideas was an unfamiliar notion (as it had been for Americans), but the graduates of these programs gave it a try. These entrepreneurs and managers and executives went on to work in civilian industries, where they excitedly spread the gospel of small steps. In the U.S., Dr. Deming’s series of strategies for enhancing the manufacturing process were largely ignored once the troops were home and production was back to normal. In Japan, however, his concepts were already part of the emerging Japanese business culture. In the late 1950s, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) invited Dr. Deming, the wartime proponent of quality control, to consult further on their country’s economic efficiency and output. As you probably know, Japanese businesses-which rebuilt themselves on the bedrock of small steps-soon rocketed to unheard-of levels of productivity. Small steps were so successful that the Japanese gave them a name of their own: kaizen.
We don’t try new things usually cause of fear and because we resist change. Taking small steps (kaizen) doesn’t trigger the fear or change sensors. Therefore, I love the idea of kaizen. You can use the process of Kaizen for anything ranging from weight loss to career goals. The reason kaizen is so effective is because it focusses on taking small steps to improve. Make sure to practice kaizen every day just like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.