What is Kaizen?
Without further ado,
"Kaizen" is a concept, a Japanese business philosophy that means "continuous improvement" and can be applied to anything from working practices to personal efficiency. It is based on small, common sense, incremental changes, and usually require minimal expense. It is the biggest aspect of the Japanese society and mentality which has contributed greatly to Japan's economic growth after the Second World War.
And that's about the only definition of Kaizen that I will give you. Why? Because I don't want you to be biased in any way. If you already know what Kaizen is, it's great, but I'm more interested to talk about Kaizen to the folks who have never heard of it or have heard of it but don't know exactly what it is.
I will now continue by defining and discussing kaizen from the Zero Way perspective.
Our behavior is constantly being influenced by a multitude of factors. We are part biology, being affected by our brain chemistry, hormonal changes etc., and part conscious decisions which are based on past experiences, current situations and future goals. Many parts of our behavior are actually habits that we have created either intentionally or unintentionally, in time, to help us be more efficient, and which are mostly done automatically, on a subconscious level.
Enough psychology for today. The reason I talked about habits is because kaizen is mostly this - a set of habits that change/evolve/improve with time, making our actions more efficient, more productive in a shorter length of time. Aka, helps us live and work smarter, less harder.
So Kaizen is an umbrella concept for all of the changes in our behavior that improve our life and work.
By following the Kaizen methodology, or by simply having a Kaizen mentality, anybody can improve their lives. One of the most famous companies who has implemented Kaizen is Toyota Motors Corporation (short TMC), and created something called "The Toyota Way".
Masaaki Imai, the author of the book "Gemba Kaizen - A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy", is the inspiration for this current essay about The Zero Way, for which I am infinitely grateful.
By blending the Kaizen principles with those of the Zero Waste concept (including ethical consumption and the circular economy), I have created The Zero Way.
Some keywords we will be using throughout this essay are:
- "process versus result" aka "journey versus destination";
- "plus-value", "non-value-adding" and "minus-value";
- "plan-do-check-act" (short PDCA);
- "product life" from raw material to disposal;
- "7Ls of Life" etc.
When you start on the Zero Way Journey, imagine your house is your company and you are the manager of this company. You can even name it for the sake of this exercise. Of course, mine is called "Zero Way Ink".
All the objects in your household are your employees. Each has an important role in the company. You don't want to hire and lazy employees and you don't want them to quit, either. You fire those who aren't bringing value and invest in those who bring the most income.
Every action that happens inside your house, for example cooking, watching TV or sleeping, is called a "processes", which you or your employees (belongings) must take care of.
And the product, or the source of income that your company produces, is represented by "Value". So you, as a manager, and all your employees must work together to achieve profit, or "Plus-value".
If it's not bringing you profit, it's called "Non-value-adding".
If it's making you bleed money, it's called "Minus-value".
"Value" can mean many things.
It can be taking care of one of your needs - for example a good night's sleep.
It can be something that brings you satisfaction - listening to music etc.
So, for every type of value, you have a certain standard. For example, for the value of having clean clothes, you employe a washing machine.
If it cleans your clothes very well, it brings Plus-value.
Of it stains your clothes or makes them smell bad, it brings Minus-value.
If it sits idly for 10h a day, it's "Non-value-adding".
If you start envisioning all your belongings as "employees", all your and their actions as "processes", and all their productivity as "Value", you will have no problem understanding the concept of Zero Way.
Next we'll talk about Improvement and Maintenance.
But first, leave us a comment and let us know if you're interested to know more or you think it's just a boring topic.
Do you think it's a good idea to connect zero waste with kaizen?