I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, mostly they create unnecessary stress. That list of ten items just staring you in the face. No, I am not able to fit into my high school prom dress. No, I still haven’t painted the master bedroom. No, I didn’t learn to speak French. Then what? It’s December and your list has a thin layer of dust and is still as crisp and fresh as the day you tore it off the pad and posted it. We have all been there. Now, some people are strongly motivated by these sorts of affirmations (they are aliens) – I am not in that camp. From this self-admission I started using one or two-word themes to guide me during the year. In 2012 it was “Focus & Clarity”. In 2013 it was “Simplicity”.
2014 is the year of “Kaizen”. I have used this term in the past, and in a couple of blog postings on this site: Kindergarten Rebel and 5 Tips to Starting Your Own Learning Revolution. I thought it was time to give the concept its own spotlight dance.
I’ll give you the Wikipedia definition: Kaizen (改善), Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”, refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management. Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, teaches people how to perform experiments on their work and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.
Perfect. Each year brings its own set of struggles, barriers, ups and downs. Looking at what went wrong in projects, analyzing the process and in the end determining improvements – this is the norm. The challenge this year is to not only review and fix things (be they projects, courses or programs) that have gone all pear-shaped – but to look just as closely at those things that went without issue or seemingly without issue. Were we as successful as we thought we were? Did we hit the right goals or perhaps there were unintended outcomes? Sure, we take a project deep dive during the evaluative and debriefing process – but let’s be honest with ourselves; when it comes to taking a magnifying glass to successes… it’s less a priority. The things that go wrong are the squeaky wheel.
My goal is to take projects, programs, development tasks and ask “how can this be refined, revised, enhanced”? I suppose there is wisdom in saying “Why fix what’s not broken?” or “change for change sake is bad”. I’m sure there was someone in the dark corners of Apple who questioned the frequency of new iPad releases. It’s not broken, why fix it? Steve Jobs was looking to enhance an already great product, making it better than we as customers thought it could be. The challenge to the team: make this successful product better. Can it be thinner, lighter, more powerful – oh and still be elegant?
If the opportunity to do something quicker, faster, better than before, presents itself – shouldn’t we consider the possibility? Small daily improvements equate to stronger, better long-term results. Don’t we owe it to our end-users, our customers, our organizations to take not only that which is failing but that which on the surface seems okay, and take it apart and make it better, more elegant?
Case in point: Harry Brearley, an English metallurgist, wanted to develop a better, non rusty gun barrel. Why is this important? Because of his tinkering with something that was already working decently, we now have stainless steel. Kaizen!
How are you going to build small daily improvements into your area of expertise? Let us know your thoughts.
Interested in other accidental discoveries? Click here.