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.

Scientific Management: The Roots of Lean and Quality


The scientific revolution that happened roughly 1600 to 1690 has changed our world. Additionally the following blast by the industrial revolution also push further the significant changed in the way we live our lives.

From the perspective of Industry, the biggest change for workers from craftsmanship era to the industrial revolution was the breaking up of work into tasks that were then ordered into an assembly line. The way the tasks is divided among the workers was very detail. However, the method of doing the tasks was not. This was discovered by Frederick Winslow Taylor by the principles of scientific management with the output of his publication of  “The Principles of Scientific Management” in 1911.

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.
—Frederick Winslow Taylor, Scientific Management, 1911.

He was the first to discover the principle that working smarter—applying scientific principles to improve the quality of tools and work processes— improves productivity, efficiency and quality. This later become different stream of Quality Management and Lean Management. However, as they both came from the same roots, he is known as the Father of Scientific Management.

Here are presented two videos showing the works of Taylor and his contribution to the advancement of the world of Lean and Quality Management.


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.