Monday, January 4, 2010

Kaizen: It's not just for rocket scientists

One of my favorite words is a Japanese concept that has wound its way into the English language—kaizen. It's like a little mantra I come back to now and then to remind me that, though my life and habits may not be perfect, I can always take incremental steps and make better at whatever I want to change.

It's actually a pretty simple formula:

改 ("kai") meaning "change" or "the action to correct"
+ 善 ("zen") meaning "good"
= 改善 kaizen, Japanese for "improvement"

All of us at times find ourselves frustrated when we arrive at situations in which we realize our abilities or coping is limited by our current knowledge or experience. At these times, it's helpful to summon the magic of kaizen.

Kaizen can be an attitude, where we realize we can incrementally tackle our ability gaps. Combined with resolve and patience, kaizen can help us master new languages (learning three words a day in a foreign tongue), commit to a new fitness regime (add 5 minutes to a work out on a treadmill when you want to recommit to the gym), or develop a technical competency like working with a digital camera or web design program.

While similar to "practice, practice, practice," the kaizen outlook allows us to approach our desired behavior or problem area with secure knowledge that continuous, incremental improvement is our goal. It's the attitude set that makes the difference between grudgery and a delightful personal challenge.

Pat yourself on the back on that new task with a newfound kaizenitude.

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