We all love stories about how a little-known inventor wakes up one morning and aha!, hatches a novel idea that promises to change the world. There are many examples of this exciting phenomena. Here are three such moments:
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Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kampar, realized he couldn’t fit a big table into his little car so he sawed the legs off. Eureka! Do-it-yourself furniture was born.
Steve Jobs took a calligraphy course in college and wondered why a computer’s user interface couldn’t look so good. Voila! Apple’s beautiful graphic design was underway.
Nick Woodman, creator of the GoPro, wanted to take a picture of himself while surfing. Pop! The idea for a selfie camera came to life.
We must credit our power of intuition for the contributions it has made to the history of invention. Without this important human ability, we’d still be sitting, waiting and hoping that our snail mail will arrive in time while drinking watery coffee from a Grecian-inspired paper cup.
However, a flash of insight is not the only way to discover innovative ideas. I’m going to introduce you to an approach that is easy to master because you’ll have control over the total process. In Japanese, it’s called Kaizen. In English, it means continuous change for the better. What it really means for us is that when we focus on making small, incremental improvements in our performance each day our efforts will build up into a substantial enhancement, maybe even equivalent to an Aha idea — within a year, a few months or quite possibly in a couple of weeks.
Are you ready to start the process? The effect is gradual so the sooner you begin the quicker you’ll see results. Here are three ways you can go kaizening (yes, now it’s a verb):
1. Identify existing processes that appear to be a waste of time or inefficient. We have a finite amount of time to complete our work. Why waste any of it? If you see an effort that appears to be slowing you down or is counter-productive, ask yourself: can this effort be transformed to enhance the quality of the work? If the answer is yes, then start re-designing your process by collaborating with your team.
2. Remind yourself that a small improvement is better than none at all. Kaizen is not about having big, dramatic flashes of insight. It’s not about changing the world in one grand moment. Continuous improvement is the tortoise, not the hare. Hollywood will never make the movie “Kaizen: Small Steps, Slow Progress.” But if you’ve read this far, then you’ll understand that the best movies are not always the blockbusters.
3. Keep the following mantra close to your heart: “making a mistake is actually a step forward.” How often have you blamed yourself for not meeting your objective or goals? I bet more than you realize. Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you get knocked down and stayed down or did you get up again to do the same thing you just “failed” at, but in a slightly different way? Remember that trial and error is the basis of learning. And learning is the foundation of kaizen.
In this TMZed culture of ours, we crave drama, hype and instant gratification. This idea is reinforced as soon as you switch on the television, surf the net or read a newspaper. That makes sense because who didn’t want to be a rock star when they were in high school? I freely admit that I still have an old dusty guitar in the back of my closet. But now that I’m grown up, I’ve realized that I need to use my time wisely. Improvement is a continual process. There are no shortcuts. Slow and steady, that’s the surest route to get where we want to go in life. And kaizen management will take us there. As long as you are persistent and don’t give up on the process, you will improve and eventually reach your goal – always making progress one step at a time.