The Japanese coined the term Kaizen, but the process started in the US when France fell to Germany during the second world war. America realized if it were to be more prepared for wars in the future it must make more equipment and more weapons when needed at a faster rate. Those supplies must be available faster when a part of the work force was called for duty on the front. The US government created a program called Training Within Industries. One course from this program became the basis for what would be called Kaizen after US instructors were asked to teach the program to a Japan that needed to improve its output quantity and quality post WWII. The Japanese adopted it rapidly therefore a lot of people mistakenly believe that it was originally created there.
Basically, Kaizen is a system of continual improvement using small incremental steps instead of radical innovation (which tends to fail 75% of the time). Kaizen works because it does not press our fear button and does not stimulate the “fight or flight” impulse in us – a response controlled by the amygdala, found in our mid-brain. The amygdala shuts down creative thinking that could interfere with our physical ability to fight or run, often stimulated by change. Although crucial for survival, when we use small steps towards change this part of the brain does not register any significant threat and is bypassed. However, when we feel fear, access to the cortex is restricted which almost always leads to panic, stress, indecision or even shut- down (unless you are able to turn fear into excitement). When we set small goals, there is no fear, the cortex becomes engaged (that part of the brain where logical and creative responses are created) and we follow each step successfully.
Kaizen is a mindset; a way of approaching any activity in such a way that daily progress is developed. Tiny adaptations of behaviour can eventually have massive implications. Tasks can be broken down into smaller and smaller steps until each seems to have little or no effect on their own. Change happens so slowly that there is almost no awareness of it happening. Of course, you can still choose to make sudden and huge changes, Kaizen need only apply when you feel fear stalling your progress. When you feel that certain changes threaten your security or you just feel they’re too far out of your comfort zone. Move towards them still – just in smaller steps. The key is to keep moving.
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