I created a treasure hunt for my daughter's birthday party a few years ago. With a small army of first graders running around our yard for an afternoon, we had planned several games to keep it fun. I divided them up into small teams to follow simple clues to find the next clue hidden somewhere in the yard. This leads to additional clues until it eventually leads them to the location of the hidden treasure. They all had a great time in pursuit of the hidden treasure.
It was actually very funny to see groups of seven year olds, bursting with excitement, read the simple clue and start running as fast as they could. I had no idea where they were running to and neither did they most of the time. As soon as they read the clue, they just started running without trying to understand the meaning of the clue. In their excitement to act, they did not think first. With a little help from the parents, we focused their thinking on the meaning of the clue. Then they were off running again.
Kaizen is one of the keys to success at Toyota. We have attempted to bring kaizen into our businesses with limited success mainly because we did not take the time to understand what kaizen really means, just like my daughter and her friends did on their treasure hunt.
In the most basic definition, we took kaizen to simply mean “continuous improvement”. Easy enough to understand and off we ran to make improvements. But where are we running to? Are we going in the right direction? How do we know?
With greater understanding, kaizen means more than just continuous improvement. Kaizen means gradual, small and frequent steps towards improvements in all things. It is a way of thinking to constantly do little things better. It is a life-long path to set and achieve higher, lasting success. The reason kaizen is lasting is because it is done in small, comfortable steps. The reason kaizen is powerful is that it is done every day.
Let’s find our hidden treasure by taking one small step forward everyday.