Kaizen Change

Kaizen ChangeWe often think about radical change, game changing change, disruption… but sometimes the approach that’s needed is more of a teensy step than a great leap forward.

The Japanese call it Kaizen change, which simply means improvement. The type of improvement required is small and incremental.

Kaizen change was introduced to Japan after WWII when they needed to rebuild. The American engineer and professor Edward Deming was brought over to work with industry leaders and is credited with inspiring Japan’s rise from the ashes to become one of the most powerful economies in the world in less than a decade.

What’s so special about Kaizen?

Many of us can’t make the changes we want to, partly because change triggers our threat response. In the same way that if something foreign is introduced into our blood our body responds immediately by producing antibodies, change can prompt the production of “psychological antibodies” like procrastination, avoidance and many good reasons why it isn’t possible, such as; “I don’t have time for this”.

Kaizen sidesteps this threat response, by keeping the incremental changes small. Critically; it feels comfortable.

“Where innovation demands shocking and radical reform, all kaizen asks is that you take small, comfortable steps toward improvement”

Dr. Robert Maurer in his 2014 book on Kaizen change.

How do I start?

Ask yourself, what is the smallest change you can make? This should be the equivalent of “how can I improve my game by 1%?”

I was coaching a group recently and “Mark” described searching his calendar for a full day to sit down and immerse himself in the material in order to choose his development focus. The likelihood of this was about zero since he was a busy finance director. He had plenty of motivation, just no feasible way of achieving what he wanted to.

His first Kaizen step?

15 minutes (rather than a day) to sit and reflect on what we had learned and what he could do differently. You should have seen the look of relief on his face.

Benefits of Kaizen Change

  • The mind develops a desire for the new behaviour where previously it was resistant
  • Builds new neural connections in the brain.
  • The steps are so small you can’t fail.
  • People often realise they have reached their goals with no additional conscious effort on their part.

Small changes taken in the right direction over time add up. I’m not a mathematician but if you think about compound interest you’ll get what I mean.


  1. Thanks for introducing Kaizen to me. Another aspect of Japanese culture to love and embrace.


    1. pleasure and yes they have a way with elegant simplicity


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