Kaizen, literally translated means ‘continuous improvement’, wherein Kai stands for ‘change’ and Zen means ‘good’. In organizational set-ups, Kaizen is the philosophy that encourages constant upgrades within the business— it encompasses any and all activities that seek to identify, analyze and solve problems in the organization. The aim of Kaizen is to increase productivity, boost company morale, as well as eliminate waste of material and time, all through continuous review and improvement. The activities of Kaizen may be performed within groups of workers that perform a similar task, but ultimately this concept seeks to urge every employee to participate regardless of their hierarchy in the organization.
Kaizen was first implemented and popularized by Toyota after World War 2, when the company encouraged its assembly line workers to stop the production line in case of any abnormalities, and suggest the reasons and solutions to the problem at hand. In the post-war era when resources were limited, introducing any big changes to the company was not very feasible, and the idea of small improvements in order to achieve larger goals seemed quite appealing. This Kaizen practice of small but consistent improvements worked wonders for the company and this model has since then been studied and adopted by different companies across the world.
Although largely perceived as a business improvement method, Kaizen is a broad philosophy that can easily be adapted at the individual level as well, in order to achieve a more productive and well-balanced life, or even to simply improve the quality of life. Rooted in the simple principles of discipline, honest self-evaluation, consistency and prompt action, Kaizen has a lot to offer to businesses and individuals alike. The popular four step Kaizen method of plan, act, evaluate and repeat can help you set, achieve and build further upon your goals.
The key lies in the attention to detail not planning for big, revolutionary changes, because let’s face it; the bigger the change, the tougher it is to implement and stay consistent to. Instead, one can introduce long-term positive change through small yet consistent improvements in their lifestyle. For example, if you desire to become vegan, it might seem extremely difficult to go vegan all of a sudden from a completely meat based diet. By implementing small changes like first eliminating meat, then slowly dairy over a span of time, you can not only achieve the ultimate goal but also sustain it for as long as you desire.
But does the journey end once your goals are achieved? Not in the least, as per Kaizen. Remember that a major pillar of Kaizen is the ‘continuous’ aspect, indicating that improving your life, chasing after your goals, and even healing from mental and emotional issues are life-long journeys, not just one-time goals. Revisiting the vegan example, once you have mastered a fully vegan diet by eliminating meat, dairy and other animal based-products, what more can you do to make this vegan lifestyle even more enjoyable and fulfilling for yourself? There might be challenges that you face along the way- Kaizen is all about learning by doing. So for instance, despite mastering your new vegan lifestyle, you still crave a delicious slice of extra cheesy pizza from time to time. Your focus would then shift to identifying the problem and coming up with solutions for it (vegan cheese, anyone?)
And once you have resolved most of your problems and put the challenges past you, Kaizen urges you to go above and beyond- Is it time to master vegan recipes? The answer can only come from asking yourself the right questions, and Kaizen focuses especially on ‘why’ questions. So, in this case, why was it that you decided to be vegan? Was it for greater fitness levels or maybe to be more responsible towards causes like climate change and animal cruelty? Identifying the bigger reasons behind your goals and methods can ultimately give you important insights that you can in turn use to further improve your life. Let’s say your ultimate reason to turn vegan was to be fitter and feel more active. In that case, you can go on to incorporate other habits into your lifestyle, like going for a run every morning, to meet your ultimate goal of being fitter, while also supporting your original goal to go vegan.
To work with the Kaizen philosophy, you must commit yourself to your goal- be disciplined in implementing a small change daily. You must also learn the skill of introspection- after all, change begins only when one asks the right questions. Tools like journaling and meditation, or even therapy can help you immensely with this skill, as they can untangle your thoughts and help you gain clarity about yourself. Go inwards to create change in your outer world, and then keep adding a flower a day to overtime build your beautiful garden- that’s the Kaizen mantra!