During my parent’s generation products from Japan were considered to be of poor quality, similar to how many products from China are viewed today. Japanese cars were cheap and unreliable compared to the stalwart American auto industry. Today, Japanese cars are more popular and reliable than American made (especially in view of the recent massive recalls by GM). Japan is viewed as a gleaming high tech economy.
How did this come about? What changed? Was there a revolution in manufacturing? Did the Japanese copy the best features of the American manufacturing machine?
It was Kaizen.
The literal translation of kai-zen is change-good, a better meaningful translation is continuous or continual improvement. The Kaizen process focuses on reflection, reduction and elimination of suboptimal processes and incremental steps rather than giant leaps. The application of Kaizen to Japanese industry transformed from the cheap knock-off manufacturer to a world leader.
Why am I writing about Kaizen? Because I don’t see any distinction between performance of a manufacturing process and the performance of my life. I see my life as something that I can always improve upon. This is for two reasons. One, is pride, I want to be good at what I do, regardless of what it is. Sometimes this pride isn’t beneficial, I get angry when I’m bad at things especially when I’ve been putting a consistent effort, this has reared it’s head particularly during team sport, which is probably the worst place. The second reason is that small continuous improvements compound going forward, a small improvement on an everyday act adds up day after day.
Where can you apply continual improvement? Think about the places in your life where you can make small beneficial changes. Here are but a few things that come to mind:
- Spending – could you be paying less for the same or better products?
- Finances – do you have loans you could consolidate into one? money in a chequing account you could invest?
- Fitness – being strong makes life easier, continuous improvement is the cornerstone of a strength training program
- Fitness – you never know when you need to run for the bus or the elevator, don’t be wheezing sweaty guy when you do
- Sleep – how much sleep are you getting? what is its quality? what is your wakeup routine?
- Diet – could you cut down on your sugar and white flour? are you getting enough protein?
- Organization – do you know all the things you need to do? who has borrowed your things? who is doing things for you?
- Introspection – how do you handle setbacks and problems? when you get stressed do you realize it? can you fix it?
Some of places I’m well on my continual improvement path, others I’m just starting, and still others I haven’t begun. In future writing I hope to describe what’s worked for me, what hasn’t and what I’m working on with Kaizen.