Kaizen. Across many industries in many countries, this term is thrown around as a "standard practice." Continuous improvement—the ultimate goal of business everywhere, right? Find ways to get things done quicker, cheaper, more efficiently… and then implement those goals into an everyday routine.
But how many people shed this line of thinking along with their work boots (or lab coats or hard hats) before heading home at the end of each day? Who actually pays attention to the fact that this is a way of life for the Japanese, not just a way of conducting business? How many actually apply this "business term" to other aspects of their lives and try to make continuous improvement apply to their personal lives as much as their work routines?
One influential follower of the kaizen principle, Masaaki Imai, once said, "Kaizen means improvement. Moreover, it means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life." Since this practice is already being taught in working life, it’s just a matter of taking those same lessons and applying them to every other area of your life.
Admit it: You’ve thought to yourself many times, "Did he even think before acting?" Now admit (and this one will be harder to own up to): How many times has someone else had that thought about something you did or said? Every single human in this world has been on both sides of that equation, without exception.
The more I learn about kaizen and continuous improvement, the more I realize that people are thinking before acting, even when it baffles me that they thought this or that. But W. Edwards Deming would have told them that it takes more than the initial thought. You must test the hypotheses of your actions before proceeding with them. People may plan-do-check-act (PCDA) at work, but few do once the work hats have come off. Applying the PCDA cycle to life away from work could prevent mistakes for many people, including myself.
Do you want to stuff your ears with cotton balls rather than hear your significant (or insignificant) other nag about this or that again? Are your kids making a padded room look more and more appealing every day? Have your finances gotten so out of control that you can’t even remember what it’s like to have money? Do your friends seem more like a strain than a blessing these days? Are you closing doors in your house just so that you won’t peek in as you pass by and see the mess inside?
Before you go out and buy stock in cotton balls, put on the straight jacket, or burn down your messy house for the insurance money, first try a less drastic approach. When you go home, do one small thing to improve a situation that applies to you. Just one itty-bitty thing. Do something extra-special for your nagging spouse. Tell your kids you love them when the urge to wring their necks is becoming overwhelming. Call a friend you know is in a good mood just to say hi. Pick up one thing, only one, from that cluttered room and put it away. Tomorrow, do two things to improve upon the day before. Then do three things the day after tomorrow. Voilà… you are continually improving.
You can’t change anyone else, but you can change yourself in little ways every day. Many times by working on yourself, you will actually cause those around you to begin changing. Whether others are affected or not, you will be better than you were the day before, and that in itself is success.
Just as kaizen seeks to improve your work environment by trying different procedures to streamline processes, so too, can kaizen apply to every aspect of your life. Not every new procedure is beneficial; it takes trial runs to see what works. The point is, there is effort toward a goal, people are taking action, which doesn’t have to be right the first time. When it doesn’t work, they study why and learn, and are improving along the way.
The little changes you make at home may at first seem too insignificant to really make a difference; however, you are moving forward. Small steps toward improving your environment help minimize the need for a big change in the future.
There are a multitude of case studies that prove kaizen works. Wouldn’t you like to see your own life run as efficiently as a company whose managers and employees have subscribed to this philosophy? Now (and I hope this will be the one and only time I ever say this) take your work home with you. Continually improve no matter where you are.