Volume 1 / Issue 16/ October 24, 2016
Jim Semple Reviews: The Spirit of Kaizen
In this issue, Jim Semple reviews a book that speaks to one of the major challenges we face today: sustainability. The timing is right for this book and one of its premises resonates with what most of us believe and that is that there is value in moving to excellence one step at a time.
“One of the better business books I've read lately is The Spirit of Kaizen, by Robert Mauer, Ph'd. At the risk of oversimplifying, the premise on which the book is written is that a steady flow of small improvements has a greater probability of making an impact on operations than one big revolutionary change.
The generation of small ideas can originate in any corner of the business and can be contributed by any (every) member of the workplace regardless of position or title. It is accepted within the Continuous Improvement movement that those closest to the work are most familiar with it and often offer the most practical suggestions for making it better.
The impact of multiple small improvements is due in part to a piggyback effect. Each small improvement initiative is a building block that rests on those that have come before. An example might be erecting a platform or table at waist height adjacent to a milling machine where raw material and finished parts can be placed. The table eliminates the need for the operator to bend and lift each time he or she picks and places a part. A piggyback idea might be to erect a rack for the machine's cutters at the same height and in the same vicinity so the operator doesn't have to take even one step when the need arises to change cutters. These are both small ideas but they promise to improve workflow and reduce worker fatigue. The accumulation of many similar small improvements can result in a much improved, higher performing machine shop.
But what is the problem with big ideas? What is the problem with revolutionary change? Dr. Mauer writes that most people, and that includes most of our workers, have a status quo bias. They like things the way they are and are suspicious of big change. They are frightened and intimidated by revolutionary change. In fact, Dr. Mauer says that when faced with major change most people freeze, their brain shuts down. The cerebral cortex, the thinking part of their brain, surrenders to the more primitive part, the amygdala, that would have them fight or flee to safety. Mauer writes, "Like a bouncer at a trendy nightclub, the amygdala muscles past the rest of the brain and takes charge. "
Small changes have no similar effect. When workers are asked "what is one thing you can do today to save the department $1.00?" workers are apt to get busy thinking about all the possibilities. On the other hand, when they are asked, "What can you do to help the company cut $1,000,000 from expenses by yearend?" a small number of workers might ponder the question. Some sarcastic individual might suggest "Fire the CEO", but the majority will fall silent. Their thinking simply shuts down.
Dr. Mauer writes that asking for small improvement ideas from the workforce is a central tenet of the Toyota Production System. As evidence of its effectiveness he says the average Toyota worker offers 19 improvement suggestions per year and most are implemented, while the average American worker offers one idea every six years. American workers tend simply to do their job and rely on management to introduce ideas for change.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, endorses the concept of incremental change. He wrote, "Innovation doesn't arrive like a thunderbolt. It emerges incrementally, in bits and chugs, forged by a mixed bag of coworkers from up, down and across the organization.
The Spirit of Kaizen offers insights into motivation and how people think. It describes how to use those
insights to build a work culture where everyone contributes and everyone wins. This small book is a
great read. Every manager, supervisor and leader can boost his effectiveness by studying The Spirit of
Kaizen and making this book his continuous improvement bible.”
Jim Semple is a retired Vice President of Manufacturing at Brandt Engineered Products Ltd. He is a Lean advocate who learned firsthand that the right people, working with the right systems, led by the right leaders, make’s all the difference. Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives with his wife, Linda, in Kaleden, BC. Check out his blog too!