How the Japanese “Kaizen” Method Can Change Your Life
By Debbie Mandel
I am fascinated by the success and contentment inherent in many Japanese companies. The secret – they use the Kaizen management concept for gradual, continuous improvement. Literally, kai means change; zen means to become good. The foundation of Kaizen is built on the willingness to change, using small steps to improve every aspect of life constantly. It is process-oriented - - in contrast to Western business concepts of radical innovation and fast results.
If we apply this business management principle to manage our personal lives, we can transform our failures and regrets into successes. Success comes at different moments in life and is rarely spread evenly during a lifetime. Often we are so intimidated by failure that we never try to become all that we yearn to be. Basically, we are afraid to make fools of ourselves. However, when we risk nothing, we gain nothing. The secret of success is the dogged, determination to succeed, not the determination to avoid failure. Using Kaizen thinking, rather than worrying about quick and dramatic results, we can move slowly with discipline and awareness. Eventually, change becomes part of our mindset.
Kaizen stresses teamwork and therefore to succeed we need to ask for help or advice. This includes suggestions for improvements. When there is criticism or things don’t work out, we need to change what we are doing, cut our losses so to speak. Kaizen is non-judgmental leading us to determine what is wrong, not who is wrong. Problems and mistakes need to be corrected. We must remember not to shoot the messenger, either. Criticism polishes our mirrors.
Because there is no judgment, our morale improves and we can work better with others without worrying about rating our performance. Kaizen is actually a form of good housekeeping: organization, efficiency and teamwork. Everyone strives to communicate better when speaking and listening. The key is mutual recognition: kindness, fairness, sensitivity and loyalty.
Ultimately, the Kaizen process leads to improved quality. This does not necessarily mean the applause we get from employers, friends or family at the end of a task, but the personal pride we take in our work whether it is cleaning the house, writing a poem that will never be read or beautifully finishing the back of a furniture piece which is to be placed against the wall.
When we make the conscious effort to take small, patient steps, open ourselves up to others and strive for quality and integrity, we will recover our sense of belonging in this stress-filled world.
Here are some suggestions to improve daily life with Kaizen:
- When you feel overwhelmed by stress or criticism, ask yourself: “So what?”
- Always express your appreciation to others.
- Keep your life in balance at home and at work by knowing who you are and what you want. If your life is chaotic at home, it will reflect itself at work and vice versa. If something shakes you up, think about why and begin to change.
- Let go of past mistakes. Sometimes we hold on to them because we feel they define us and make us feel secure in some strange way. Be willing to move forward slowly because past mistakes make you inefficient and waste your talent.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com