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Kaizen is a term used by the Japanese which directly translates into “improvement”. However, it most generally refers to the practice of continuous improvement, which provides the common idea that it is an action among many workers, from CEO to lower ranked employees, throughout a workplace whom all are directly involved in improving all functions within the workplace. The idea associated with the term follows certain introduced guidelines; one of which being that the biggest results come from many small changes that are accumulated over time. This explanation has led to the misunderstanding that Kaizen means small changes. Like stated above, Kaizen is mostly associated with the common idea that everyone is involved when it comes to making small changes that lead to the improvement strived for. When Kaizen is performed correctly, it begins to humanize the workplace. Instead of pressurizing employees to be or achieve the absolute best, it can ultimately eliminate the stress of pressured, overly hard work (“muri”), by creating a steady environment where constant change leads to constant improvement, and this improvement leads to a journey of successes.

Kaizen was first introduced to the West in 1986 by Masaaki Imai, the author of the book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Today, the term is widely used as a common, important variable within in a business’s strategy in achieving excellence, which is not considered a destination, but rather a journey that does not end, due to the expression that improvements can always be made as change is everlasting and inevitable. The term is now commonly associated with manufacturing operations in places such as Toyota, but is used in non-manufacturing environments as well.

Excellent firms don’t believe in (achieving) excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change. Average ones compete with others, excellent ones compete with themselves.

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