Kaizen: Thousands have this priceless gift – most never discover it

A few years ago I remember walking across a stage to shake the hand of a Dean I had never met, who belonged to a faculty I didn’t belong to. It was my university commencement, full of symbolic pomp and circumstance, complete with handshake and ceremonial awkward photo. Through it all, I had unwittingly and inadvertently entered into the post 2008 recession work force.

I was officially inducted into the department of the unemployed. I was part of the statistic that made the 1% look amazing and I didn’t even have to occupy wall street. It was the best of times. It was the cheapest of times.

I witnessed the fall of GM Motors and saw the rise of Toyota as the world’s most valuable car company. Having a lot of free time and equipped with an education I spent a lot of time reading. I started to notice that a lot of hugely successful companies seem to have a set of principles that they fully stand by. I remember reading an article on “the Toyota Way.” Essentially, Toyota believes in continuous improvement and respect for people. The latter, respect for people, involves developing ways to encourage teamwork and help promote respect for others. The Japanese have a single word for continuous improvement called kaizen. Kaizen according to Toyota includes understanding the long-term vision, being able to meet challenges, to always innovate, as well as getting to the core of any issues or challenges. Following this set of principles has allowed Toyota as a company to climb their way past competition and obtain more market share.

They have innovated the way they do things from their manufacturing to their internal processes. While the improvements must have spanned decades and dozens, if not thousands of failed projects, Toyota was at the very least willing to try new things. Likewise as an individual I decided to try and strive to continuously improve. I decided to take the term kaizen and use it as my own personal mantra. I can tell you, even from my limited experience, a simple change in mindset and small actionable steps towards improvement will lead to significant results.

Most people are afraid to try new things. Trying can lead to failing and most people are unable to accept failure. Often times trying new things is the magical difference that separates greatness and average. Whether it is finding better ways of doing things, discovering new ideas or even just seeing what doesn’t work, the simple act of trying will get you further than having not tried at all.

Kaizen to me really just means being open to new ideas and being willing to change. It means placing myself in situations that I am uncomfortable with so that I can overcome the fear of the unknown. According to Alfred Bandura, the 4th most cited psychologist of all time, facing and overcoming your fear allows people to become more proactive and better able to deal with change. This is called self-efficacy. As a career or business function, self-efficacy will allow you or your organization to better stay up to date with constantly improving technology and an ever shifting economy. Being willing to learn and embrace innovative change can bring dramatic changes to your organization or even your personal life. Most people understand this concept but very few are able to discover self-efficacy in how they approach their day to day lives. People are unable to grasp kaizen; continual personal improvement.

To try and unlock your own personal, or even your company, potential try to do things that promote self-efficacy. Do things that make you feel uncomfortable. You will find that what comes from trying new things will usually teach you valuable lessons, make you more pro-active, and will occasionally unlock a better way of doings. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you’re a leader trust in your team and allow them to fail. They might just surprise you with some of their crazy ideas.

So see what you might want to improve, in your personal life or within your organization, and try to find some new ways of doing things.

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