Loosely translated, the Japanese word kaizen means 'continuous change for the better'. More and more businesses now follow this principle to ensure they stay competitive, but this approach is equally valid for individuals. If you allow your skills to stand still and become out of date, it is all too easy to fall behind others and lose your competitive edge.
When we stop learning, we stop improving, and that can only lead to career stagnation.That is why it is important to maximise every opportunity for learning that comes along. None of us can rely on what we did and how we performed yesterday to sustain us. Developing a personal improvement process is a key part of ensuring we can meet the demands of our changing business and personal worlds.
I like the way Kim Collin puts is. He said “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection”. Isn’t that wonderful? If everyone of us can commit to a life of continuous improvement, I bet the world will be a better place to live in. We need to actively search for a better way of doing things.
Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection - Kim Collin
Let me share with you some steps to continuous improvement.
1. Discard conventional fixed ideas.
The very idea of kaizen is unconventional. And the truth is, most people do not practice continuous improvement in any area of their lives, let alone all areas. About ninety-five percent of the people in this world have absolutely no interest in taking action to improve their lives. Conventional, fixed ideas would suggest that it is not necessary to continue learning throughout our lives. In the New Economy, however, the stakes are higher than ever. Those who continue to think that their formal education will take care of them for the rest of their lives are in for a rude awakening.
2. Think of how to do it, not why it cannot be done.
The pessimist will create all kinds of reasons that something can't be done. The optimistic, forward thinker, on the other hand, knows that "if the why is strong enough, the how will come." Focus on the outcome. Then, come up with all the ways that the outcome could possibly be accomplished. “…Determine that the things can and shall be done. And then we shall find the Way..” said Abraham Lincoln.
Determine that the things can and shall be done. And then we shall find the Way - Abraham Lincoln.
3. Do not make excuses.
Start by questioning current practices. Making excuses for not doing something is easy. Again, focus on the outcome. Then, take action. There is no excuse for not trying something. There is absolutely no harm in trying. I remember back in my secondary school days. I had a friend who was the best in Mathematics. There was something I noticed about him – he wasn’t afraid to try difficult problems. While people like me will drop a question just because it “looks” difficult, this guy never bulged. He’ll try every problem. The truth is, he didn’t get all of them, but he was way ahead of all of us who didn’t try at all!
4. Do not seek perfection.
Do it right away even if for only 50% of the target. If we all waited for perfection, we'd still be reading by candlelight and riding horses to work. Once you get to a certain point (whether it's 50% or 80%, or another number that makes sense), then run with it. In other words, take action. Then, adjust as you go along.
5. Correct it right away, if you make a mistake.
Stuff happens. Accept it, and adjust accordingly. If you've absorbed and accepted #4, then you're almost anticipating the necessity of corrections. Acknowledge that the mistake happened, especially when it affects other people, and then correct it. When an airplane is in flight, it is rarely exactly "on target". Most often, it's a little off course on this direction, or slightly off in that direction. But the pilot (or auto-pilot) constantly adjusts, and the plane ends up at its destination. The same is true of personal development.
6. Do not just spend money for kaizen, use your wisdom.
It is not enough to simply buy a tape set to learn skills, or to merely attend a workshop or seminar. These are wonderful (and essential, in my opinion) first steps, but action is key. Learn, yes. But then take action based on what you have learned.
7. Wisdom is brought out when faced with hardship.
Challenges are usually undesirable, but they can be tremendous learning opportunities. Obstacles will present themselves, and you will be a better person for having done what it took to overcome them.
8. Ask "Why?" five times and seek root causes.
The question "why?" is extremely powerful. As stated in #2, if a person has a strong enough "why", he or she can accomplish anything. The question "why?" can serve to either strengthen our conviction about something, or help us to discover that it really wasn't as important as we thought it was. At a minimum, it helps us to get to the root of the issue. Each time you ask "why?", you reveal a new layer. You go deeper, and deeper. Then, after four or five answers, you'll get to the real one. Try it!
9. Seek the wisdom of ten people rather than the knowledge of one.
Much has been written about the power of group thinking. Whether it involves seeking one or two other people's opinions, holding a meeting with others, or more formal brainstorming or mastermind groups, there is power in numbers. If you want to find out how to be successful at something, ask someone who has already done it. Better yet, gather several people who have already done it. With libraries, the internet, and other resources available today, we have more opportunities than ever to gather the wisdom of others.
10. Kaizen ideas are infinite.
Kaizen is a process of learning and growing, steadily and continually. There are always ways to "tweak" elements of your life in order to improve them. It has been said that life is a journey, not a destination. And practicing the philosophy of continuous improvement, of kaizen, will help you to make the most of that journey!
See you on top!