Monday, January 1, 2007


Back in the 1980s I was a young child wearing short shorts, socks pulled up to my knees, and lighting ants on fire with a magnifying glass, but I vaguely remember hints of this big American obsession with Japanese management styles, and how America was falling behind in the world. If you’ve seen the movie Gung Ho (imdb), then you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. That whole era and the literature (Amazon) it produced focused on the old-fashioned, pre-PC, manufacturing-centric view of the business world. NBC put out this seminal work (wikipedia)related to the whole craze, if you’re interested.

While I don't discount everything that came from that school of thought, part of me just squirms when I read books that talk about dictating memos to your secretary, reading stock quotes off of a ticker tape and other old-fashioned workplace relics, and these references are hallmarks of books written about the Japanese management craze. By the way, the craze had sort of a predictable ending - despite all of our admiration for Japan, its economy peaked around 1989 and showed basically no growth for the next 13 years.

One interesting concept to come from that time that continues to be popular today, particularly as a part of six-sigma (wikipedia) training courses and things of that nature. This is the concept of Kaizen, (wikipedia) a Japanese word meaning “change for the better” or often thought about in English as “continuous improvement.”

What Kaizen basically stresses is that small improvements add up over time, and that workers should try to do things a little better today than they did yesterday.

This isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it was something that popped into my head while I was thinking about my 2007 goals, and how I might try to approach things a little differently when I go back to work tomorrow. Sometimes we tend to stagnate, and making a big change seems like a daunting proposition. Why not go for a bunch of small, steady changes over time? I think this is something you can do no matter where you work, or what your position is.

Maybe you can set up a macro to take a few steps out of a task you frequently run in Excel. Maybe you can cut out your morning recap of and instead use the time to plan out your day. Maybe you can get a file holder for your desk to keep more frequently used files within closer reach. Nothing huge, but just enough to be able to say that you have done things better today than you have yesterday.

Hopefully a focus on little improvements over time, Kaizen, will make you more valuable to your employer, and as a result, more highly compensated.

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