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What is ‘kaizen’ and how can it change my life?


By Amanda Cassidy
07th Mar 2023
What is ‘kaizen’ and how can it change my life?

Wasting your time might just be the key to a more successful life, writes Amanda Cassidy 

Fifty years ago, American car executives were invited to Japan to view their Toyota manufacturing factory. They wanted to know how the company had the ability to make so many cars so quickly.

It was here that they learnt the interesting philosophy of Kaizen. Instead of punishing employees for making mistakes the company was encouraging their staff to stop, to consider the process, to improve procedures and to find a new way to do things better before continuing with manufacturing.

Human-approach

In fact, the Toyota bosses also wanted employees at the plant to provide suggestions to management about how to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

They discovered a new brand of motivation – one that humanised the process and that helped workers apply the same philosophy to their personal lives.

It’s now a work synonymous with industrial logistics, but it’s extended to personal productivity. Kaizen is about not diving in and dialling it up, it’s a gentler philosophy – one that involves thoughtful adjustments, understanding failures and experimenting to apply the learnings to make things work better.

The new Zen

The word itself translates as “change (kai) for the good (zen)” and is based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. In other words, tiny changes can add up to substantial changes over long term without the need for radical innovation.

One of Kaizen’s core principles is waste reduction, and it comes into play in more scenarios than you might think. A good way to think of it is to identify the areas of your life that you are wasting time. Find your critical mission (your goals) and cut out any obligations and to-do’s that aren’t producing any tangible results beyond draining you. (Bye bye ballet and drums for the kids)

Consider the small steps and start with bite-sized changes. Think tiny here. Despite our instinct to think big – it’s more likely you will succeed if you are making small consistent changes towards a bigger picture. This is also a way to identify the quick sand areas of your life that suck your time – if mornings are a nightmare bottleneck in the bathroom, consider other ways like getting up ten minutes earlier or doing a rota for who goes first.

For Kaizen to work, we also need to reflect on how things are going, especially when you sense a friction point. That’s hard to do – to step back and identify the problem before it arises – because we lead such busy lives.

MOT on our processes

In a work scenario one of the changes might be printing out phone numbers you use frequently instead of having to open a file or database, or doing virtual calls instead of long, in-person meetings. At home, I’ve started using a shared virtual calendar instead of writing into the family calendar on the kitchen fridge.

To start your Kaizen thinking, it’s recommended you begin an ideas log of things that seem inefficient or that you’d like to improve. It’s often easier to spot these in the heat of the moment than in cold reflection.

Then plan when you will implement your changes and make sure they become habit. As more of us start to apply business practices to our personal life, it starts to help family dynamics to run a little smoother.

Now, if only we were getting paid to coordinate after-school and extra-curricular activities for a 7, 10 and 11 year old!

Here’s to that as our critical mission!

This article was originally published in September 2022.