Kaizen vs. innovation
The Western world pursues the concept of innovation as a means of driving progress – major changes are intended to generate major growth. Unfortunately, in reality, it doesn’t always work like that.
In his book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, Masaaki Imai explains the situation as follows.
As soon as an innovation has been established it begins to degenerate. Continuous efforts are essential just to maintain the status quo and small-scale changes need to be made continuously, which is precisely the principle of Kaizen – making small changes on a continuous basis.
Imai also argues that the situation is compounded by the West’s overriding reliance on key financial figures as reference values. In order to achieve such targets, virtually all activities need to be measured by their return on investment (ROI). This inhibits a culture of continuous improvement, where every employee consciously contributes to a corporate culture that is permanently seeking to improve everything.
A comparison of innovation and Kaizen by Masaaki Imai (1993):
|Effect||Long term and lasting, undramatic||Short term, dramatic|
|Pace||Small steps||Large steps|
|Timeframe||Continuous and incremental||Intermittent and time-limited|
|Chance of success||Consistently high||Intermittent and time-limited|
|Protagonists||Every employee in the company||A chosen few|
|Approach||Collective spirit, group work, systematic||Individual ideas and efforts|
|Precept||Sustain and improve||Break off and rebuild|
|Recipe for success||Conventional know-how and the latest state-of-the-art technology||Technological achievements, new inventions, new theories|
|Practical requirements||Minor investment, major effort to sustain||Major investment, minor effort to sustain|
|Focal point for success||People||Technology|
|Evaluation criteria||Performance and processes for improved results||Financial profit|
|Advantage||Exceptionally suitable for a slow-growing economy||Primarily suitable for a fast-growing economy|