Kaizen critics on Innovation: Sustaining Innovation is not Kaizen!

The rapid change of the world makes innovation a lethal weapon to become a big part of solution to bring about countries, companies, or communities to a useful change that hopefully take them to the top the leading pack in the world. Little research on the topic could give many hints that innovation is the key. There are now disruptive innovation, cultural innovation, reverse innovation and other terms that use innovations as the key.

However, the overwhelming topic of innovation that filled the market has overshadowed some important not so radical, slow and not extreme change that comes from continuous improvement that actually be the backbone of many leading companies in the world. The power of kaizen culture which embedded in top leader of the pack has been uncover in the book The high-velocity edge by Steven Spear seems to be undermined by the amount of innovation books and its varieties on the market.

Java Printing

I am not against innovation because I understand that without innovation no companies could ever bare their existence let alone leading. innovation is the key. I really enjoy reading books on innovation especially books by Clayton M. Christensen which really is the result of his in-depth research and reflection about the world of innovation.

My argument about innovation is that most of the books on innovations discussed about big changes that will lead to strategic/big step. My take on current innovation paradigm is that innovation is not enough because we still need kaizen. Some people say that kaizen is innovation also, but it really is not. The rule of thumbs is what your mind perceived what innovation is, reduce it by factor of at least 100.

When for example Clayton M. Christensen tried to detail innovation into a more elaborate by dividing it further into Disruptive and Sustaining Innovation. People get confuse because first, where is then Kaizen? Second,  a strange combination of words is used (Sustaining Innovation!).


The Innovator’s Dilemma (Christensen 1997) identified two distinct categories—sustaining and disruptive—based on the circumstances of innovation.

  1. Sustaining Innovation : when the race entails making better products that can be sold for more money to attractive customers—we found that incumbents almost always prevail.
  2. Disruptive Innovation :when the challenge is to commercialize a simpler, more convenient product that sells for less money and appeals to a new or unattractive customer set—the entrants are likely to beat the incumbents. This is the phenomenon that so frequently defeats successful companies. It implies, of course, that the best way for upstarts to attack established competitors is to disrupt them. (Low end disruption and New market disruption)

Confusion happen among the practitioner of whether Sustaining Innovation is Kaizen because it is also about making better products to attractive customers. Additionally, two words of sustaining and innovation are both contradictory in nature in a way that when innovation happen, change happen and it moves the object of innovation to some future state.Thus actually it is inappropriate to give the name “sustain”. Sustain means almost equally to maintain. Hence it means the innovation going nowhere but only maintain and hence going nowhere.


History wise, the Kaizen term exist already since 1986 which is kaizen/continuous improvement which small incremental improvement. However, it seems that the founder of kaizen concept had predicted that confusion between Innovation and Kaizen will likely to happen.

This big misconception has been cleared before by Masaaki Imai in 1986, a notable quality philosopher and practitioner and the founder of Japanese consulting company namely Kaizen Institute or best known by the west as the father of Continuous Improvement. Misconception of innovation happen when people associate immediately innovation with improvement. The truth is that innovation indeed is improvement but improvement is not just innovation. Improvement consist of Kaizen and Innovation in which until the next innovation, kaizen will improve the system little by little.


From the graph it is clear that Kaizen perfected Innovation. It means that any types of Innovation whether it is disruptive innovation, cultural innovation, reverse innovation will be make perfect by following through with Kaizen afterwards. Kaizen will target improvement until next innovation.

Hence it is very clear that innovation itself is insufficient to create a winning edge and that innovation coupled with relentless kaizen become the ultimate answer. This is why in my opinion, despite of the effort to rally with other companies toward Innovation from generating, managing, until applying innovation many firms still happen to be in the lower league. Because Innovation without Kaizen is just like “Pound Saving, Penny Foolish”. It seems good that you get to save many Pounds, but other companies take care also every Pennies possible with Kaizen and overtime they who cares for both thrives.

Why Getting Better is the only way…

In the world that keeps moving faster and faster, everyone is challenged. The constant velocity of  change set pace to an even greater need to become better and better at a multiplied rate than before. Innovation has become a sacred word that even books on the topic become hunted by entrepreneur, managers, CEOs, even daily house mother that just try to run a business while baby sitting her children.

As country against country and organizations against each others to take the lead in the competition, it seems that the race to become better seems to take additional burden on personal level. It is because organization behaves as organism because indeed humans drives it and when organization would like to become better, humans inside it has to become better as well.

baby while making his first steps 

“You learn something everyday if you pay attention” ~ Ray LeBlond

The pressure that will build into personal level is actually where the challenge is the biggest. In this micro level , with the already many life problems that faced by each ones of us, loads of responsibility to improve are put on our back by the necessity of organization to improve. Even it is understandable that if organization is not improving, at the end we will have the consequence by having much more problems (such as layoff, salary cut,etc.). Thus this becomes non-negotiable deal that led to rapid change in our lives. Those who can learn fast will adapt to the organization and those who do not improve will be left alone.

“Each day learn something new, and just as important, relearn something old.” ~ Robert Brault


My remarks is that to keep pace not only we have to learn something to get better. Getting better means not only to learn something new, but also to never hesitate to re-learn and most importantly unlearn the things that is of no value for the future.

Education consist mainly of what we have unlearned.” ~ Mark Twain

Story of Scientific Management Guru: Back to the Roots of Scientific Management with Frederick Winslow Taylor

While his name is not known to most people, his impact on the 20th century was quite profound. He is Frederick Winslow Taylor, a management theorist that focus on the labor process. He is the backbone of today’s management by the use of science. His works started blooming in an era after companies have become more than a mere limited project, but unlimited by the boundary of time and that in this time, industrialization is on the move.

Companies were growing in scope and racing to reap the benefits of industrialization. They were so starving in harvesting benefits of industrialization. In that time, companies need much more labor than ever to be able to produce products that made possible by the industrialization.However, even labor is many, a fundamental problem is emerging that needs an answer, how do we get labor to work more to ensure maximum output?

His works begin with many writings in the theory of work that mainly focusing on  finding the way of controlling the motion of workers to obtain highest maximum output for what company pay for wages.

Even all that he has created  is not fully acceptable in todays modern era but many of his concepts become a root for current management practice. His controversial concept such as the concept of soldiering that workers didn’t work hard enough is totally rejected by lean thinking that fundamentally held a strong believe that worker is good and therefore most of error come from engineer or the architect of the system that most of the time have to put to blame.

Soldiering held a believe that in a majority of cases the man deliberately plant to do as little as he possibly can to turn out far less work than he is well able to do in may instances to do not more than 1/3 or 1/2 of a proper day’s work. ~ Taylor

Proper day’s work is a maximum level of output humanly possible or  a fair day’s work. when worker is not physically possible to reach this, he fired them. He argued that soldiering was possible because company management does not even know how much work can be extracted from workers. once to make a stubborn man who refuse to make any improvement to achieve this fair days work he cut his wages.

Industriearbeiter Giesserei // foundry industry employees

Taylor’s goal was to take knowledge work from the worker and put it in the hands of management to be used as control of workers. He himself called this method as Scientific Management. However, his method on full reliance solely on management let to the born of shopfloor expert which is industrial engineer. However, as people said that too much is never good, the role of management in shopfloor is too dominating that even in the development of work instruction, management get a majority of decision on the content and organization of it which is fundamentally different than now

But his famous real contribution besides of his many controversial concept is his management theories and the concept of time study.

There are many and different ways for come at doing the same things, there is always one method and one implement which is better than any of the rest. and this one best method and one best implement can only be discovered through a scientific study of an analysis of all the methods in use.

He stated that no job is to simple or to complex. In fact, in he has spent 26 years only for figuring out the best way to cut metal. but in other examples, many simple works can be rationalized as well.

Some of his wise words are never more appropriate now compare to at his time:

We can see our forest vanishing, our water-powers going to waste.. the end of our coal and iron is in sight. But the larger waste of human effort, which go on everyday through such of our acts as are blundering, ill-directed or inefficient are less-visible, less tangible and all but vaguely appreciated.. ~ Frederick Taylor

Where productivity comes from? Relation between Quality, Lean, Efficiency

From my last post about over months ago, we have grasped the idea and underlying concept of Lean. That the divine purpose of Lean is to give value to customer. Lean means providing value to customer.

5 principles of Lean

In previous post also, we know that there are fundamentally 5 Principles of Lean which are:

  1. Specify value for the customer
  2. Integrate Value Stream
  3. Create Flow
  4. Pull from the customer
  5. Aim for perfection

Looking deeply between the initial definition and the 5 principles of Lean. It seems logically correct that providing value to customer is indeed will be achieved through all the 5 principles of Lean. However, this indeed is also a deception for many.

Not that I say those principles are useless, on the other hand, people has to know those principles by heart. Despite of that, in my opinion, 5 Principles of Lean are not comprehensive enough in serving higher purpose of providing value to customer because it somehow lacks of comprehensiveness. If we look at those all 5 principles and pondering on those points, we can have assumptions that Lean is all about efficient of operations to provide value by means of faster, responsive and flexible operation by implementing integrated value stream, flow, pull and then aim for perfection.

Java Printing

These points have failed to serve the true comprehensive definition of lean which is providing value to customer because it simply do not pay attention to “quality” matter. In fact, none of the 5 principles seems to talk about quality (poka yoke, inspection, culture of quality).  This had led many to miss-understanding that lean is just efficiency (value stream, flow, pull). Lean comprise efficiency indeed, but not only that. It is also quality and all that is required to bring value to customers.

Because as we come back to the true definition of lean that is providing value to customer, we realize that Lean defintion is larger than 5 principles of lean itself.


That ambiguous translation from basic definition of Lean into the principles of Lean, make a miss-conception about achieving Lean in relation with improvement culture. Improvement has twofold and people have always been mistaken when talk about improvement. Lean improvement as perceived by most people as working toward a more efficient operations is preferable in most case because it gives a sense of boost to ongoing operations and increasing productivity. On the other hand,   quality improvement sometimes not as popular because for many it just don’t seems boost their production quota. So, they tend to prefer efficient improvement compare to quality improvement.

People has mistakenly grasped the concept of improvement that they tend to associate improvement to efficiency because by and far, it will boost productivity quickly. This is bad in a long term because quality is stronger and has a bigger impact in a sense that on the long term, focus on quality improving productivity and increasing quality. Both quality and efficiency however have similarity in the need to specify customer value and strive for perfection.


Sometimes we deeply understand about the need for efficiency improvement because it directly impact our output in short term. But those who forget to deal with improving quality is in the long term will be definite loser because while you neglect quality, others not. They improve productivity through both quality (inspection, poka yoke devices) and efficiency (integrate value stream, flow, pull)  improvements of operations which give them a twofold advantage to their productivity increase compare to those who only care about increasing efficiency.

So, I want to again stress that the 5 principles of Lean is in fact very important to remember. But one shall never forget the in-comprehensiveness of the principles and that the fundamental definition of lean is always comes first.

Lean is providing value to the customers.

Small Changes, Big Achievement!

I just read a blog by Beyond Lean that is so insightful. In his post, with the title Small Change vs. Large Change, he highlighted about how Paul Akers at FastCap often talks about 2 seconds kaizen.

I have read Paul Akers’ Book about 2 Second Kaizen which describes his personal journey on creating kaizen culture in his small to medium size business (at that time). Following my current reading on Workplace Management by Taiichi Ohno, this post really spark a light for me to set out this post about small changes.

Company has been the center of all attention for decades. But scaling further to a level of personal kaizen, big achievement by means of doing small changes can definitely be a roadmap to improvement. I would imagine if we are not only focus on doing productive works but in addition to that, we apply 2 seconds kaizen on how we went throughout our day.


It has been acknowledged that doing the right things before doing things right will elevate productivity in our lives by preventing doing the wrong things. But truly I said that bigger achievement is attainable by performing small changes in doing things right. Now I invite you, my fellow travellers, let us set for ourselves to do everyday at least 2 achievements (productivity) but as complementary also do 2 seconds of kaizen ( improvement in method of doing things).

Managing by Heart: What Leaders Should Learn from Toyota

Toyota has come into test by recall of its vehicle all around the world. From the lens of customers, recall means a bad action because it looks like Toyota has so many defects. In fact, not in all recall Toyota found defective parts. But why Toyota do recall that actually give a bad impression to customers?

For those who oversimplify business and looking only into short term action, this bad impression will persist. However, the actual reason of this recall is to better satisfy customer in the long term. I would not talk here about recall issues in specific, instead, the focus on the long term and the focus on the satisfaction of customers, even when the customers still do not know that the action will satisfy them in the long term because it disappoint them in the short term.


This ideal principal of Toyota is not only mere a tag line to make its company looks professional, but it is a living system that proves it consistency on focusing on satisfying customers in the long term.

This is the reason that Toyota is one of the leader in Automotive Industry. To be a leader, we have to focus on satisfying customers and on the other hand those who do not focus on satisfying customers in the long term will soon enough perish. This great ideal philosophy has been around us for decades.

In the Bible for example those who will be a leader has to be a servant.

Matthew 20:25-26
25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

In addition, Scientifically, This term has been coined by experts to be called servant leadership.

Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that, together, enrich the lives of individuals, build better organizations and ultimately create a more just and caring world. A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Pillar of Toyota which is Respect for People and the principle to contribute to society has make Toyota a serving leader among all Automotive companies. Additionally, this behavior of serving leader not only shown in the big area as a company but also reflected in the response of the CEO Akio Toyoda when storms face Toyota.

The video below shows how servant leadership of Akio Toyoda to many segment of communities.


This video declare his intention on being a servant companies to the public. Not enough doing this, he also made 2 additional steps to deliver the message to customers by doing apologize talk show in television and also making a TV commercial which will incur additional cost for Toyota.


Surprisingly, what many customers do not know is the truly profound act from Akio Toyoda that proves his quality as a Servant Leader. Instead of getting mad and talking about profit and losing money, he went to America team and greet the assembly workers. He also delivered a really deep gratitude to all his employee to support him in the difficult situation. He knew that he is a servant to a customer. but he also knew that he is a servant of his employees and therefore he is the leader.

The servant leader will says thank you to all who support him, but an ignorant leader will get mad to all his subordinate in order to get profit get into the company back. Ignorant leader will obviously get back the profit on the short term but not in the long term due to his ignorance to all employee that experience additional suffering in the crisis from their leader. But the servant leader will get back slowly but certain. The company not only will getting back on its foot, but all employee will go forward together because the culture of servant leader is embedded and spread inside the company with its CEO as a living guide. The effect is an enormous viral movement inside the company that makes everyone in the company to try hard to be a servant leader and in the end helping in serving customers and bring the company into number 1.

How hard it is to apply Lean in your company

Lean is basically the way Toyota does its business and operated. the term Lean Manufacturing is not coined by Toyota, but Toyota has a huge contribution to the spreading concept of lean.

Being success in Japan, Toyota next step is worldwide market. Thus, the challenge is in transferring what sustained Toyota as one of the leading automotive in Japan, to a larger target which is worldwide is a definite logical step.

With the aim of transferring the DNA of its company, the famous documents that stand behind the bestseller book of Toyota way by Jeffrey K liker is used. Toyota way 2001 came after the necessity to expand and the success of so called “experiment” of transferring the way Toyota does its business to GM plant in Freemont that actually in one way align with the social responsibility principal of Toyota and also prove that the Toyota way is totally transferable and proven. an important point is that even Toyota itself has realized that it is easier to make a greenfield project than to repair or transform the culture that has already existed.

Therefore, for new entrepreneur, it is best to build and grow a company with a Lean Enterprise thinking already injected in people rather than waiting for a new company to grow with the expense of a hard time educating, forming, and transferring the behavior, system, and mindset governing the company that will be a huge inertia of this transformation.