Have you heard of the word, ‘Kaizen’?
It’s a Japanese word and business philosophy meaning, ‘continuous, incremental improvement’.
It rejects the idea of striving for radical overnight change or success, and focuses instead on the small, consistent steps of every person, every day, working together towards the goal.
Every part of the process required to achieve a goal is given as much value as the end goal itself. In fact, the process is perhaps given more emphasis than the goal, as when things aren’t done well, the desired goal will not be met.
At risk of misrepresenting a philosophy which deserves a good amount of study (which I have not yet done), I won’t go too much further in its explanation. Rather, I’ll comment on how it’s so counter-cultural, and why we should stop to consider how we could apply it to our lives today.
Success - why can’t I have it yesterday?
I am in my first year of starting a business. I never really set out to start one, but flowers took my fancy and well…here I am, owner of ‘Bonnie Blooms’. And I want to make it work.
After I’d registered my business name and gotten a logo designed, I poised myself, ready for the giant wave of success that would sweep towards me, carrying me off to a castle made of only the best flowers, roomfuls of money, a poodle I could finally afford to keep, charity organisations funded by the raging success of the business, and the feeling of elation at being an independent, business savvy woman.
When nothing but tumble weeds came my way, I was outraged! Was it time to give up? Try one of my other hare-brained ideas? Who did I think I was after all, posing as a florist when really I was just a very disorganised girl educating herself via the google machine?
Ok, that was all slightly exaggerated. Life has taught me to be somewhat more realistic. But I must admit, I have battled discouragement in the midst of working hard to make this business succeed, and not yet seeing any great results.
I know, I know. Businesses take time. Years to get going. I know. But still, something in me causes impatience. Something in me demands visible and immediate signs of growth.
A culture of instant gratification and overnight success
We live in an incredible time in history. Amazing advances in technology, science and medicine are causing us to live longer and have access to an endless world of opportunity (although I cannot say this without noting the giant chasms of inequality persisting between rich and poor, and in some cases widening - or indeed how many of these developments can and are having negative as well as positive impacts on the world).
It can be easy for many of us who have grown up in the age of all these societal advances to take things for granted. And perhaps, become entitled to our creature comforts, expecting a measure of ease in accessing many of the things we want.
When things by their nature take time, it makes us uncomfortable, impatient and can lead to discouragement and disillusionment. It’s been over-used, but it’s true - we live in a ‘microwave society’, where we expect things quickly and easily.
Of course, this just isn’t life. While many things have been made easier for humans over the years, some things, many things, still take time and require good old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears.
The proverbial tortoise knew what was up. He wasn’t worried about what others were doing. He wasn’t scrolling through Instagram, comparing and despairing. He just kept moving forward, inch by inch.
Kaizen: continuous, incremental improvement.
How can such a non-sexy sounding principle be life-changing??
So, could this principle of Kaizen really be life-changing? It’s not exactly the kind of overnight miracle marketing we’re used to hearing these days. The idea of slow and steady, faithfully working away bit by bit, isn’t exactly sexy.
But I believe if we let it, having this mindset and attitude can be life-changing, encouraging us to keep pressing on even when we don’t see immediate visible signs of growth or success. With one important thing being key…
We lean into the strength of others.
Perhaps we long for the quick fix or rapid rise to success because we feel we don’t have the energy or strength to sustain the day in, day out, continuous, forward motion required of the Kaizen approach.
In my business I am striving hard to succeed. I am going after continuous, incremental improvement (even if I am impatient at times), and it is tiring. It really is.
But, I know what the answer is, and it’s community. I have to lean into community. And if community feels like it isn’t really happening, I have to be intentional in creating it.
Kaizen is not an individualist idea. It requires togetherness. It requires every person and part of an organisation being valued in their role, and working together, each person counting on the next. The end goal is only reached if the process of working together is done well.
It’s the same with life in general. Whatever God has called you to, you need others around you. You weren’t meant to walk this path alone.
Continuous, incremental improvement, together.
Bonnie loves travelling to experience and understand new cultures, beautiful things (especially flowers), coffee with friends and being with her family. She deeply values authenticity and is passionate about building meaningful community where people feel a sense of belonging and genuine love.
Bonnie Dowie’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bonnie-dowie.html
Bonnie loves travelling to experience and understand new cultures, beautiful things (especially flowers), coffee with friends and being with her family. She deeply values authenticity and is passionate about building meaningful community where people feel a sense of belonging and genuine love. Bonnie Dowie’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bonnie-dowie.html