Kaizen is the foundation of continuous improvement, built brick by brick through small steps and small moments that affect or inspire positive, persistent change. In "The Kaizen Way," Robert Maurer explores the power of going small to accomplish big things.
There is an alternative to innovation. It is another path altogether, one that winds so gently up the hill that you hardly notice the climb. It is pleasant to negotiate and soft to tread. And all it requires is that you place one foot in front of the other.
— Robert Maurer (p.23)
My top 5 takeaways:
What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask.
— Sam Keen (p.59)
Remaining vigilant for positive change is a central tenet of kaizen. In business, this means every employee regardless of status or position offers suggestions for improvements uncovered in day-to-day work that are taken seriously by management. In private life, this means finding small improvements that can be made in your own own life. In both cases, it helps to ask small questions.
What small step can I take to...
Questions are more engaging than commands, primarily because questions engage the brain in what it does best — solving problems — while commands tend to make people defensive, and by extension, less cooperative. Surprisingly, the same is true of asking yourself questions instead of giving yourself commands.
All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.
— Sally Ride (p.48)
Big questions trigger fear because they require big change. There are two primary issues with making a big change at once:
Fear is the body's gift, alerting us to a challenge.
— Robert Maurer (p.53)
Small questions bypass the sleeping dragon of fear, enabling the mind to engage and seek creative solutions. When fear is absent, your brain can focus on answering questions and solving problems without distraction.
Small questions should be productive and positive. Be aware of negative questions like:
Negative questions, regardless of size, are self-destructive, self-abusive, and never help you change for the better. Counter negative energy with small questions that focus on positive aspects of your life:
Now that your mind is in a positive state, ask small questions about something you want to accomplish. Always remember to keep it small!
Kaizen and innovation are the two major strategies people use to create change. Where innovation demands shocking and radical reform, all kaizen asks is that you take small, comfortable steps toward improvement.
— Robert Maurer (p.31)
Small actions cost little in time or money, avoid fear and are highly likely to succeed. They may seem a bit ridiculous at first, but one step leads to another. Small changes that are the result of small steps compound over time. Momentum and new habits can build quickly for the things you want in life, sometimes in dramatic fashion.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
— Tao Te Ching (p.2)
The first small action or step is critically important in dislodging yourself and moving forward in the right direction. To take that first step, identify the areas of your life that would benefit most. Then ask small questions to hone in on what you want to change and what the first small step will be.
Small change breaks down resistance, whether it be an ingrained habit, a phobia or lack of time. In fact, success is largely a result of “smart working environments” (Ahrens 2017) that bypass the obstacle of resistance entirely and not a result of willpower, which itself is a scarce and unreliable resource.
I long to accomplish a great and noble task but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
— Helen Keller (p.14)
Small change should require little effort, so if you encounter resistance on your adventure, take a few steps back or make the next step even smaller until resistance dissipates. The goal is to keep moving, even if the pace is slower than you would like, because slower is better than standing still.
When seeking change, an accountability partner can help you spot things that your brain sugar coats to make you feel better: cutting corners, asking questions that are too vague or taking steps that still cause resistance because they are too big.
You are ready to introduce the next small small step when the current one becomes automatic. Repeat the process of determining a small action that advances another step toward your goal. That will be your next step. Keep doing this at a pace that avoids resistance. You may be surprised to see the pace quicken as your brain craves more.
Small things with great love. . . . It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing. And it is not how much we give, but how much love we put into the giving. To God there is nothing small.
— Mother Teresa (p.1)
Big rewards demand innovation over incremental change and signal material gain over recognition. The reward itself becomes the goal. Useful contributions go largely unnoticed and unrewarded. Small rewards develop intrinsic motivation by signaling appreciation and gratitude for a job well done. Useful contributions are noticed on the spot and rewarded with small, meaningful gestures.
Most of us miss out on life’s big prizes. The Pulitzer. The Nobel. Oscars. Tonys. Emmys. But we’re all eligible for life’s small pleasures. A pat on the back. A kiss behind the ear. A four-pound bass. A full moon. An empty parking space. A crackling fire. A great meal. A glorious sunset. Hot soup. Cold beer. Don’t fret about copping life’s grand rewards. Enjoy its tiny delights. There are plenty for all of us.
— United Technologies Corporation advertisement (p.200)
Small rewards should be frequent, timely, inexpensive and fitting to both the person and the goal.
The true creator may be recognized by his ability to always find about him, in the commonest and humblest thing, items worthy of note.
— Igor Stravinsky (p.208)
Innovation is typically triggered from small observations: noticing the smallest details, what is missing, what is contrary, what looks out of place and what is unexpected. Indeed, reveling in every-day things that most people take for granted is what distinguishes the creative mind.
We have to learn to live happily in the present moment, to touch the peace and joy that are available now.
— Thich Nhat Hanh (p.14)
Children have that magical ability to live in the moment and in wonder at what surrounds them. Kaizen rekindles that ability in all of us.
What more important task does this life hold than to draw out the possibility in each moment?
— Robert Maurer (p.221)
Maurer asks us to consider the example of Perry Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, who left a candy bar next to some radar equipment. After observing it melting, he asked himself why radar would have that effect on food. He didn't start by asking how he could revolutionize home cooking. He asked a simple question in response to an unexpected event. This small moment and his observation led to the microwave oven. Many inventions are initiated by noticing similar small moments.
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.
— John Wooden (p.27)
Even at the pinnacle of success, kaizen encourages you to go one step further, to be a little bit sharper, efficient, faster, stronger or better. This mindset is common among elite athletes who continue to break records and creative minds who continue to produce one amazing innovation after another.
Regardless of your current condition, your abilities or your lot in life, improvement is always possible. Treat adversity and every obstacle as a challenge to grow. Start by asking small questions, take the next small step and follow up immediately with a small reward. Repeat and keep leveling up from one adventure to the next!
You can find out more about this book and Maurer's other works at his Science of Excellence site. You can get this book or read reviews at the following sites: