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.

5 Steps to Personal Kaizen

Kaizen consists of the word Kai which means “change/make better” and Zen which means “good”. But when we put together the words into Kaizen, it expresses a deep meaning of continuous improvement or improving continuously that when applied to our daily life would have developed an increase of our productivity as well as quality of our daily result.


The secret of boosting our quality and productivity lies in the way Deming’s Circle or Continuous Improvement Circle is implemented in our daily life. Great companies have gained favor from using this philosophy and in this post, you will gain advantage by applying the concept of  Continuous Improvement Circle in your daily life.

Continuous Improvement Circle

Continuous Improvement Circle consists of the Circle of PDCA ( Plan – Do – Check – Act ). Here, the 5 key steps to your personal kaizen are uncovered:

1. Plan Your Activities

To begin with doing a Personal Kaizen in our daily life, planning activities is a very important step. In many Time Management concept, planning your activities has been the most crucial concept. One should try to plan yearly, monthly, weekly and daily. Yearly and monthly planning will comprise the most important events of the year and/or month, whereas weekly and daily planning will deal most of the time with operational issues and projects that we undergo at works or at home.

Thus, it is important to set at least 15 minutes everyday before you sleep to get to know your next day activities so that you can make sure that the following day will be filled with the activities that are actually meaningful not only for your boss or family but also to you.

2. Set Apart Things That You Do Regularly

Getting all the activities is just your first step to enter your personal kaizen circle. having acknowledged your activities, now you can separate those activities that happen most of the time either daily, weekly, monthly or yearly and those activities that are sporadically or spontaneously appear in your calendar.

Kaizen is continuous improvement. Thus the activities that appear regularly will subject to your Personal Kaizen. Setting apart these activities from others will make you focus on doing it effectively with more quality.

3. Create A Way to Make It Better and Standardize

The focus of Personal Kaizen is on small continuous improvement of life processes. Thus, after we know the activities that we do regularly, it is now time for us to seek for a way to do it more efficiently with the help of either doing it differently by using another methods or using technologies to enhance the time to finish the activities.

It is also important to set target for yourself to try to reach 3 activities accomplishment that is not regularly done and try to get it done everyday. This is for the purpose of evaluating your kaizen effort that will be explain in step 5 later.

4. Standardize

The Continuous Improvement Circle cannot be separated from Standardization in which it means that the improvement that we have done will be our current standard and will become a challenge for us to improve to a new and better state. In the future, our challenge is to beat the current standard that we set so that we progressively making improvement to the same activities that we do. Without standard, it is very easy to feel satisfy and perform below standard.

5. Evaluate yourself and back again to point 1 

Evaluating is an ultimate importance and since it is a circle of improvement, I will not call step 5 as the last step, but a precursor to step 1. Your effort now might have been paid off. You can prove if you have done the right and on the right track doing your Personal Kaizen by meeting one or more of these:

  • There are more activities that you can tackle in one day compare to before you apply personal kaizen
  • You become last stressful due to available slot time you have in your day for family, leisure, or your kids
  • You basically feel that you own your life and not your boss or your tasks

How we could increase the number of accomplishment of irregular and regular tasks everyday directly related with how good we are at kaizen. The better kaizen that we do to our regular tasks, the more we can tackle unpredictable tasks with the better quality result and with more freedom of time to do personal purpose activity such as leisure or go out with kids.

One final concern is that even you have already achieved and know the benefits of personal kaizen, I encourage you to do a circle of continuous improvement and not to stop only until step 5 or else the improvement that you have already done will be deteriorate.

4 Quick and Cheapest Ways to Effectively Learn about Kaizen

For some of us, Kaizen is not uncommon word. Some even live their day to day life by either promoting Kaizen all over the world or  living in the culture of Kaizen in their working company. In spite of this, many of us still have doubts due to confusion when being asked about the meaning of Kaizen and how they applied Kaizen to their job or personal life. Although some people know that Kaizen is a word that come from Japanese with the meaning of Continuous Improvement, they still questioning themselves about their correct understanding of Kaizen.

I have tried to bring a basic understanding of what really is the meaning of Kaizen by presenting in my other post about the Father of Kaizen himself delivering his point of view regarding the fundamental meaning of Kaizen. Additionally, in this post, 4 Quickest Ways for us to effectively learn about Kaizen will be given to enhance our understanding of where to go or what to do when we want to go about deepening the practical knowledge about Kaizen in our life.

1. Movies or Videos

The internet can be our friend and enemy, it can lead us to unproductive works that lead to procrastination or make us more productive by supporting us toward achieving our goals. In the internet, a website that I found most helpful to introduce us to the concept of Kaizen, history and application of Kaizen is YouTube. It can provide a quick overview into the main topic of Kaizen without really have to go through the hassle of going into detail.

2. Amazon

Sometimes people regards reading as a cumbersome ways of learning because of the flow of writing in books which typically more often do not directly go to the main points, but rather go around the introduction and story telling which bore people. But I cannot deny that the positives are more than negatives when it is coming to learning Kaizen through reading books. Kaizen is a philosophy that can be understand only by doing it or by learning from someone who has already doing it. Thus, the best way to learn from those who already began their Kaizen journey is for you to grab a book or just click in Amazon and read the story about the challenge  people try to implementing it and the great benefits of living in it.

3. Online Seminar

Website such as Lean.org has been for decades trying to promote Lean which is also a form of Continuous Improvement to the world. Yes, for some of the Seminars we will need to take some money out of our pocket, but many good recording from online seminars as well as slideshow from the seminar are just there waiting for the interested people to take a shot and download them. This source is very good because Seminars are usually held for them who need to solve a problem in a particular areas of Kaizen. Therefore, the more people interested in attending the seminar in one topic, the more chances that the seminar will be held with that topic. And once the seminar is held, we can know what topic became the concern of Industry about Kaizen.

4. Apply it!!

To be successful people have to think big and start small. This is true and proven to works in all aspects of our life from learning to swim, riding bike, counting, until going to outer space. Understanding Kaizen could not be better learn by practicing it. It is hard to actually implement Kaizen in our office if there is no employees actually aware of it. But, one can always began from themselves. Personal Kaizen is a good start to learn about Kaizen. Simply begin your day with Deming Cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act so that you could improve and deepen the value of Kaizen in our life.

Invention, Innovation, and Kaizen

I recently read a really inspiring blog from gemba panta rei (http://www.gembapantarei.com/2012/08/innovation_is_nothing_but_ecrs.html). The post was basically a commentary from a TED video with the title Everything is a remix by Kirby Ferguson.

I know it’s a little odd to comment on a commentary blog post. But the topic is so stimulating for me to write a post on it. long story short is that I am absolutely agree with it.

The longer one is that when we considered the difference between invention, innovation and continuous improvement, we could really more see the beautiful of what Toyota has done until now.

Maasaki Imai has once stated that not only by continuous improvement we can make sure that our system is not deteriorate/maintained until the next innovation is come into being. The concept shown in the picture shows how Toyota make a difference between innovation, kaizen, and maintenance.

when we pointing to Oslo Manual that regulate innovation by European Commission. It is also said that of all innovation types of process, product, organizational, and marketing, innovation in all of them are significant changes. Thus, waiting for the innovation to appear, kaizen could really make an enormous difference to the system as depicted below.

the light blue line is innovation combined with kaizen and maintenance, whereas the blue line in the middle is innovation and maintenance, and the last pink line is when a company or a system only hold on to the concept of innovation.

What is lack from it is the part of Invention. Innovation can come from anyone in a company such as executives or engineers but Research and Development Department is formally responsible for it. Kaizen is also the responsibility of all people in the company but with the “Teachers” or  “Educators” being the Quality Department and Lean/Continuous Improvement Team. But we forget about Invention. I think in the future, it has to be someway to make invention finding as systematic as when we do both innovation and also kaizen.

Toyota has invented Prius with its sophisticated hybrid technology. But the question is can they also make invention systematic?

Father of Continuous Improvement

When we start talking about Continuous Improvement (CI), people of often thinking about learning the culture and methods to turn an inefficient system into a life and continuously improved itself. It is totally fine to go about learning those methods and culture of CI, but with the power of a little history of CI, the impact we made will likely more deep and explosive.

History is important in order to forge a path for the future. The only way to improve ourselves in the future we need to know of our past mistakes and successes. This time, we will take a look at a great living man which became a piece of history in CI because of his effort to spreading KAIZEN philosophy all over the world even way before Lean introduced in the well known book “The Machine That Changed The World”.

In the video below, he who is well known as the father of CI will elaborate the meaning of KAIZEN.