Kaizen and the 10,000 things

The real kaizen is all about the 10,000 things. Maasaki Imai’s description of relentless, creeping quality improvement is apt. It also fits with the comprehensive philosophy of total quality management (TQM). We say “real” kaizen because we have so-called kaizen events that have nothing to do with inexorable cultural change and a whole to do with flash and get-it-done-now sudden transformation. We question the sustainable results of kaizen blitz (mixed metaphor there in two languages).

Kaizen can start anywhere, including person effects in our own offices. We can declutter, simplify, throw away, and pass on materials that don’t seem so useful anymore. Do they really help us think with enhanced clarity or does all the junk simply provide more chances for distraction? One of the great Taoist examples is the power of water as it erodes rock over eons—the soft cutting the hard.

Cultural change is difficult and implementing kaizen patiently is also difficult. We need to hold ourselves to a planned implementation of tens, then hundreds, and finally, thousands of small changes that flow inexorably in the same direction, but with flexible, agile alignment. Yes, we can eliminate wasted time, but we do not see a need to rush frantically all the while confusing action with achievement.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

Lao Tzu


When done with full awareness, this approach to kazen will result in a change so gradual the staff will only notice on the occasion of a formal retrospective!

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