Coming from the manufacturing sector, a continual improvement process, also often called a continuous improvement process or CIP or CI, is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek incremental improvement over time or breakthrough improvement all at once. Some successful implementations use the Japanese approach known as Kaizen where kai means change and zen which stands for good is improvement. Kaizen the Sino-Japanese word for improvement, is a concept referring to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. By improving standardised programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste and redundancies. Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.
So how can this be applied to our daily lives? How can we use Continous Improvement to improve ourselves and make us better individuals? Read on.
We live in a world of never-ending disruption and change. By adopting the philosophy of Kaizen, we can become more adaptable, flexible and resilient to deal with the constant demands and disruptions we face in our lives. By adopting continuous improvement, we can live our lives to the fullest by continuously learning, growing and thriving. This philosophy is based on the concept that instead of making big changes at once, the continuous improvement approach focuses on making a small improvement over time.
Kaizen is often referred to as the strategy for 1% gains. It is these 1% gains that athletes focus on to improve their performance. The 1% gains are incremental and if one keeps building on the 1% gains the rewards are phenomenal. Continuous improvement is perpetual and so to maintain gains and improvement, one needs to work on them continuously. Continuous improvement is perpetual and so to maintain gains and improvement; you need to work on them continuously.
An easy example is the new year resolution we make every year. How many of these do we actually fulfil and maintain all through the year? At some point, we slip up and then many of the resolutions fall by the wayside. But there is that small group of people, dedicated and committed, who are able to maintain and fulfil all their goals for the year. However, if one commits to continuously improving themselves, then the motivation to achieve the goals set will never die. One will never have to struggle with giving up or giving in because it is hard. The achievements and success in life will be a result of one taking continual incremental steps toward their goals. Continuous improvement is not about reaching the big goals in life but about taking small steps and improving and refining those goals along the way.
To be successful at the adoption of a continuous improvement lifestyle, the first thing to do is to embrace and accept that the journey of self-improvement and growth will never end, it is a lifelong journey of learning. The steps to improve continuously are as follows:
Step 1: Set goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements. The setting of the goal is the east part, keeping motivated, focused and on track to achieving the goal is the hard part. Continous Improvement provides one with a system or a process that one can you commit to to enable one to achieve any goal they set. 1% does not seem much, but being slightly better today as compared to yesterday will gradually add up and the goal will be achieved in no time. This system of being slightly better each day enables one to avoid feeling like a failure and being subject to self-anger and derision when one gives up.
Step 2: Break down the system into small actions: When one is attempting to be just 1% better each day, then it’s not about random bursts of improvement in fits and bursts. Continuous improvement is a journey of personal growth where one is making long-term steady progress. This approach of self-improvement will give one the sustainable long-term changes they seek to improve their lives and achieve goals.
As an example, if you are trying to lose weight, instead of obsessing with the ideal weight, start by thinking on how you are going to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Create a system which includes diet and exercise and then break that system down into smaller actions or behaviours which you can follow without exerting yourself too much. Like, you could start walking or exercising and everyday or every week, do something slightly more. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until it becomes a habit. Keep going until the goal is reached.
Step 3: Keep track of your 1% success: It is very important that you measure and track your 1% successes. This is a crucial factor about incremental achievement. Evaluating and measuring improvements are important for one’s own motivation and commitment to the journey. If one is not measuring progress, the subconscious brain will kick in and sabotage progress by convincing one that it is all too hard and that they are not making any progress at all. The subconscious brain only believes what one tells it. Unfortunately, we have told our brain a lot of untruthful things over a long period of time about how we are a failure, not motivated and never really achieved anything in life. The subconscious brain, as a result, believes all these facts that we have told it to be true. Measuring and evaluating our 1% successes is key to us retraining our subconscious to believe that Yes – we can achieve our goals and succeed in life.
Continuous Improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements all at once. Instead, it focuses on long-term steady progress. When one follows the philosophy of Continuous Improvement, they won’t radically change their life, but over time with consistent and constant improvement and change, they will find that they are living their life to the fullest – empowered, resilient and thriving.
Great article. I was introduced to the concept via Japanese Martial Arts, but now use the principles in many aspects of life including my work as a woodcarver.
Thanks for reading and responding.