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Kaizen Approach- The Japanese Philosophy of Continuous Change

Japan has given the world many wonderful gifts – from karaoke to selfie sticks. They also gave us roller-ball pens, hybrid vehicles and quartz movement watches which brought timepieces within the financial reach of many people. The list goes on…

Clearly, the Japanese are very productive and I have been fascinated by their culture of excellence and productivity for some time. In this post, I want to share the first of two productivity principles that originate from this nation of

makers. I will also share how you can use these productivity principles from The Land of The Rising Sun in your life to help you achieve more so that you have and enjoy more of the good things you like.

Let us begin.


Kaizen translates just to "good change".

Kaizen is a word in Japanese that translates loosely as improvement. But it is much more than just a word. It is a philosophy. Kaizen, fully understood, means the culture of, not just improvement, but continuous improvement. It is the principle that little improvements when implemented and sustained lead to massive benefits over time. This principle is a key part of Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota’s meteoric rise to global success. The Toyota Way is a list of 14 principles that the auto juggernaut uses as it’s guiding principles. Would you like to guess what one of those principles is?

Become a learning organisation through relentless reflection and continuous improvement (kaizen). - Principle 14 of Toyota’s 14 Principles

The company instilled this culture of Kaizen into its production and management. It gradually lowered waste (and the cost associated), increased efficiency and virtually eliminated (costly) defects. All this while producing a product that was, in many ways superior to the competition. Oh, and less expensive to boot. No wonder business is good.

Through often small but continuous improvements here and there this company rose to the top, and, using Kaizen, you can too.

How to use Kaizen

At the heart of Kaizen is a subtle concept. So subtle that it is easy to miss. The concept? Improvements don’t have to be large to make a difference – but they do have to be continuous and sustained.

Improvements don’t have to be large to make a difference – but they do have to be continuous and sustained.

In short, don’t try to do too much all at once. Start small but stick with it and keep getting better and over time you will be unrecognisable in how much better you have become.

Kaizen in daily life

Want to start a daily mindfulness practice? Instead of getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning to meditate for half an hour only to stop again after 4 days, why not start with 3 minutes and then increase it by a minute every week even. In 12 weeks (over time), you will be meditating daily for 15 minutes and just over 6 months after your first day, you will find yourself meditating comfortably and habitually for half an hour – your original target.

The difference though is that by applying Kaizen, you are much more likely to achieve the goal because the demand is less on a day-to-day basis and the continual improvement can be a strong motivator. The same goes for any habit of improvement, from exercise to spending time with your family to being a better listener.

The psychology behind why Kaizen works is deep and interesting. But it does work and it can work for you. It helped me start waking up earlier—a full hour earlier—in 15 minute weekly increments. I still fall back once in while. In retrospect, I should have used 5-minute increments and stretched it out over time. In fact, I might just do that!

Not how much, but how long

Remember, it is not the size of the change at the moment that matters, it is how much sustainable growth you achieve in the long run that truly counts. What good is a temporary improvement if you end up falling back to the old, unwanted way?

Until the next article, reach for your best—one step at a time.

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