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Kaizen Thinking: 4 Ideas to Shape Your Outlook

Posted by Kade Jansson

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Dec 21, 2020 11:04:19 AM

Puzzle head brain concept as a human face profile made from crumpled white paper with a jigsaw piece cut out on a rustic old wood background as a mental health symbol.In Japanese, 'Kaizen" means "good change" (Kai = change, Zen = good). Kaizen describes a corporate philosophy of continuous improvement across the entire organization. In a clutter of Kaizen, employees work alongside each other to ensure consistent positive change.

Kaizen's foundation is simple: operations can always be made better, even if they are working well right now. When there are problems, people who practice Kaizen see them as opportunities for improvement.

The world's most successful companies have adopted Kaizen as a way to remain competitive by getting better all of the time.

While there are many tools and techniques used by Kaizen organizations, and even substantial management methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma that build on Kaizen thinking, you don't need a complicated approach to benefit from Kaizen.

All that is required is a mindful approach to problems and processes. Of course, technology can be a big assist in implementing improvements, but positive change starts with what you and other leaders in your organization believe.

It is useful to question "best practices."

In social cultures, traditions and practices are carried on from generation to generation, showing respect for an elders' wisdom. Social cultures include symbols, customs, unwritten rules, folk talkies, and sometimes even rituals.

That's not a problem unless sticking to these norms stops progress and improvement. Unfortunately, that's relatively common. When old practices get in the way of positive change, it's essential to challenge them constructively.

You may be running into cultural barriers in our organization if you hear:

  • "We've always done it like this."
  • "Do as you are instructed without question."
  • "There's no point in making suggestions."

Just because a current practice is considered "best" doesn't mean it truly is.

Using Practical Problem Solving to Spread Kaizen

Recognize problems and waste as opportunities.

It is hard to think about finding a problem as good news, but that's precisely what Kaizen thinking is all about. It's the problems you don't see that are most destructive, so when you've identified something that can be made better, you've also identified the chance to contribute value, learn, develop leadership skills, and mentor your team.

Another way of thinking about this is that hardship leads to growth. When you face difficult challenges, you develop wisdom, experience, understanding, and insight. The deeper you dig into an issue as you seek to find the root cause, the smarter you will become.

Remain positive.

One of the essential principles of Kaizen is positivity. When you see everything negatively, it isn't easy to find solutions and maintain hope. But, Kaizen is a hopeful approach to problem-solving. You should be motivated not only to improve operations but also to share your enthusiasm with others.

One way to stay hopeful is to embrace the fact that small changes can lead to significant results. You don't have to pressure yourself and your team to solve every problem all at once. You only need to keep your eyes open and respond when opportunities arise. If you can solve 10% of a problem, that's something!

Avoid using the word "can't." Your focus should be on how to accomplish your goal, not why it can't be done. Sure there are obstacles and barriers to change, but with innovative thinking and small steps, they can be overcome, worked around, or made slightly less problematic. If you can make something simpler, cheaper, or faster, that's a win.

How to be an Influential Kaizen Coach

Prize creativity above capital.

Many problems can be solved if you throw enough money at them, but few organizations have unlimited budgets. Indeed, some challenges require an investment in human capital, technology, equipment, consultants, or other resources, but lasting change must come from within. Why?

When people implement ideas that they created, they become more invested in the outcome and engaged in maintaining the results. Ownership is a powerful part of Kaizen, and it develops when the people who operate and oversee the processes are the instigators of positive change.

When you view the world through the lens of Kaizen, you begin to accept that change is possible, that you can be the instigator of improvement, and that a 1% change for the better is superior to sticking with the status quo. There is a lot of value to learning all of the tools and techniques that organizations use to drive continuous improvement; if you embrace and practice this outlook, you already have the essential skill that you need.

Topics: Kaizen, Improvement Culture, Improvement Methodology

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