Have you heard of The Kaizen Philosophy?

Life-changing stuff, or you know, a light read on the toilet.

What is it?

Japanese letters for Kai (Change) and Zen (Good)
Image credits: kanbanchi.com

Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to “Good Change” or “Improvement”. Yes, the English language fails to capture the sheer coolness of the word.

Kaizen is a concept that refers to continuous improvement in various contexts ; it can be applied to business strategies, processes, or personal lifestyles. We shall focus on the latter. Also, did I just use a semi-colon correctly? Did you see that?? Am I an unwitting literary genius???

Maybe. Probably. Yes.

The Origin Story

The technology and automobile space in Japan is remarkable. It has been since WW2. In the years following the War, American auto executives were fascinated by Toyota’s incredible production capacity and hence, visited the manufacturing plants to gain some insight on how they were pulling it off.

The answer? Kaizen (and Ichiran’s Pork Ramen Noodles of course 😋).

Kaizen is a way of thinking which involves making small changes and improvements with perpetual regularity to benefit a business, or an individual. Instead of punishing their workers for errors, Toyota encouraged them to rectify their mistakes and provide any suggestions to the management that can prevent these scenarios in the future, leading to the plants experiencing fewer costly errors in the long-term and reaping the benefits of optimized processes.

The Kaizen approach is based on the belief that continuous, incremental improvement adds up to substantial change over time.

Fast-forward 60+ years to today, Toyota is the largest automobile company in the world. So maybe this thing…..works?

What I’ve learnt about it

You’ve probably heard the motivational trope, “Be better than you were yesterday”. This is the embodiment of the Kaizen approach. Now, expounding on the topic is beyond the scope of this post, but here are a few core tenets of what Kaizen looks like, that I found interesting:

  • Waste minimization

Waste is any vestigial obligation that takes up time and energy and does not add too much value to our lives. Before we reduce the waste in our lives, it is important to identify it, take stock of it and this varies from person to person. Let's ask ourselves this: was binging an entire season of Mirzapur in a single sitting whilst burying our faces with fatty snacks truly an effective use of our time and mental vitality?

OF COURSE IT WAS, WHAT WAS THAT ENDING OH MY GOD, SO GOOD. MAYBE BINGING FILLS THE HOLE IN OUR LIVES AND THAT IS THE ADDED VALUE. NOBODY HAS TO JUSTIFY ANYTHING, STOP JUDGING, YOU TWERPS.

Anyway, you get the point. Identify waste Eliminate waste

  • Snowball effect of small increments

The basis of all Kaizen: Small improvements over time lead to large-scale desired outcomes, because their benefits are compounded, and this leads to a snowball effect of sorts.

For instance, I appropriately made use of a semi-colon today, on this very post.

Spongebob meme: iSnt tHAt gROwtH

A semicolon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought.

There, now you know when to use it too. We are all a little better than we were yesterday. Congratulations.

  • Accepting failure and learning from it

Kaizen is less about grinding or hustling and more about making thoughtful adjustments that simplify a task.

A key to unlocking more productivity is to do less, not more.

You accept and learn from your failures, and make small changes to improve on it going forward. So, the next time you forget your friend’s birthday and miss out on cake, just buy yourself a rich Chocolate Truffle.

Okay…that’s probably not the right lesson to take from that mistake.

Anyway, we stigmatize mistakes and failure in our society, and are working towards infallibility, but this is at odds with the essence of being human.

So.…it’s okay, nay, essential that you do forget your friend’s birthday from time to time.

  • Review and change

Kaizen talks about how we often find ourselves running on autopilot. Going with the flow can be good, but the idea is to occasionally pause and review where you are, where you are going, where do you actually want to go, and whether the infrastructure has been set up for you to go in the desired direction.

When you actively review it, you have 2 choices: to leave things as they are, or to make changes for the better. When you remain passive, you deprive yourself of the latter.

This is particularly important if you are an aspiring serial killer. You have to introspect and change it up from time-to-time. Different murder weapons, different victim profiles, different locations to dump the body…the permutations are endless, yet too many of these killers limit themselves to singular patterns and go with it, sans exploring their options. You can be better, I believe in you.

A gif from The Shining

How has learning about Kaizen benefited me?

Word cloud of kaizen related aspects
Image credits: sixsigmadaily.com

Well, I was able to create a Medium post about it.

On a serious note, this post does not come with any confirmation of personal success. I haven’t magically turned my life around for the better using Kaizen. I was intrigued by the concept though, and how it aligns with a general desire in humans: to not remain stagnant. If it works out for you, and your life really starts taking shape because of this, then f*** you because that’s unfair.

As wonderful as theoretical frameworks like Kaizen sound, the true effectiveness of it comes through an implementation in your day-to-day.

Can you pull that off? If no, then the point of this post is to provide you with the illusion of an opportunity to be your best self, for a grand total time of 5 minutes.

Thanks for reading.

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23 and curious. The blog works at the intersection of philosophy, perspectives and healthcare.

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Rithesh Shetty

Rithesh Shetty

23 and curious. The blog works at the intersection of philosophy, perspectives and healthcare.

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