What is it that makes a company go from a one man operation to a multimillion dollar FORTUNE 500 company? If someone could figure out the answer to this question, then they will become a very wealthy person very quickly. There is so much that goes into managing and working a business that one single answer is nearly impossible. However, one of the most important things that most business professionals would agree that in order for a company to thrive it must be able to continuously improve and adapt. This continuous improvement is the fundamental philosophy behind Kaizen.
The philosophy of Kaizen came from the crippled and devastated country of Japan after World War II. In the aftermath of World War II, America occupation forces brought in American experts to help rebuild Japanese industry and improving management skills. One of the experts that was brought in was W. Edwards Deming. He was instrumental in implementing the philosophy of Kaizen. “Kaizen” is a Japanese word that means “improvement.” An education program instituted in Japan in the late 1940s introduced a film named, “Improvement in Four Steps” or “Kaizen eno Yon Dankai” in Japanese. This was the first introduction of Kaizen to Japan.
What is Kaizen? Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement.” It deals with the continuous improvement of processes in management, manufacturing, engineering, and has been applied to areas like life-coaching and psychotherapy. It is important to note that Kaizen requires the cooperation of the entire organization. Everyone from the CEOs to the assembly line workers must be involved. Once all factions are involved, they can proceed through the process of Kaizen. There are five main elements of Kaizen:
Suggestions for improvement.
So, Kaizen was effective in helping a decimated country after a devastating war. But why is it important in 20th century life? American businessman James Cash Penney once stated, “Change is vital, improvement is the logical form of change.” This is precisely the point of Kaizen. Life, in all dimensions, is not stagnant or linear. Our physical world and philosophies are constantly evolving, if a business does not adjust to these changes then it destined to fail. We must continually adapt to our change world, but just adapting is not good enough. We must improve our methods, ideologies, and even our business plans to truly keep up with a changing world.
Without improvement, so much of our world would be dramatically different. Without the desire to improve on previous creations and ideologies we not have inventions like automobiles, computers, immunizations, or even the simple things which we take for granted electricity and running water. It is the desire to innovate and improve that make the world better. Living to continuously improve oneself and others is the driving force behind Kaizen.
In part one of my serious on Grit, we discussed the first part of Dr. Angela Duckworth’s theory: endurance. While endurance is necessary and important, there is another aspect of the “grit” construct that is equally, if not more, important. Having this trait will not only give you grit, but it will also help you in almost any realm of life. This unique and powerful attribute is perseverance.
Many people from all over the world have preached perseverance. But how many of them are teaching it right? And, more importantly, how many of us actually have perseverance? While there is no definite answer to what true perseverance is, Dr. Duckworth tries to put it into perspective. The first thing someone needs to persevere is the cognitive ability to set a goal, and to stay with that goal until you see it complete. This goes back to what I previously mentioned about not changing tasks or abandoning a goal because of mere changeability. This is not to say that goals can not be altered or better defined. In certain situations, you must change some aspect of your goal because of the nature of man and the world. The world turns and life changes. So you may have to alter a very small part of your goal to make it more realistic or better suited for your current situation, but the overall goal is always the same.
The second aspect of perseverance is tenacity. In my previous post I described the definition of grit to be tenacious perseverance. This second part of perseverance is where that tenacity comes into play. Tenacity is an adjective to describe somebody that is holding fast, persistent, or stubborn. All of these are what you need to persevere. You must not abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Think about what life would be like if people did not have tenacity, we would have missed out on so many things. Take Donald Trump for example. He went bankrupt numerous times due to numerous failed business ventures before he figured it out and became successful. One of the best examples I have found dealing with and overcoming obstacles is Ludwig Van Beethoven. Beethoven went deaf near the middle of his life, which in the 18th century meant his late 20s early 30s. Yet, despite his handicap, he continued to produce world-class and beautiful music. He showed tenacious perseverance through an obstacle.
Another key concept to perseverance, according to Dr. Duckworth, is the 10 Year Rule. This rule states that in order for someone to become truly world-class in any area they study or work in will generally take at least ten years. This can be seen very clearly in the life of Mozart. It took him at least 10 years of mediocre composition before people began to recognize his works as masterpieces. Unfortunately, a very small amount of people ever reach this level of world-class peak performance.
The idea of grit and having tenacious perseverance is something we should all aspire to have. My coach, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, tells my training partners and me a simple phrase that motivates us and encapsulates the idea of Grit beautifully. He says, “A black belt is merely a white belt who never quit.” People who are fickle and change projects on a consistent basis are doomed to be extremely cultured and mediocre at many different things, rather than being great at a very few things. And those who get so frustrated at obstacles that they quit immediately are doomed to live an unfulfilled life of unfulfilled dreams. Grit is presented to teach people that their goals are reachable if they are tenacious and persistent. Part of realizing your potential and having grit is finding the industry that best suites your strengths and passions and pouring your heart and soul into it.