In the years following World War II, American auto executives visited Toyota manufacturing plants in Japan to examine how the company was able to produce so many vehicles so quickly. They discovered a humanizing philosophy driving the manufacturer’s innovation, one that intrinsically motivated workers to change process, procedures, and themselves for the better.
Instead of punishing employees for errors, Toyota encouraged workers to stop production at any time to fix a problem or provide suggestions to management about how to reduce waste and improve efficiency. As a result, Toyota’s factories experienced fewer costly errors and benefitted from consistent improvement. This philosophy, Kaizen, is one that the American executives took home and has since revolutionized multiple industries, from healthcare to software development.
Put simply, the Kaizen approach is based on the belief that continuous, incremental improvement adds up to substantial change over time. When teams or groups implement Kaizen, they circumvent the upheaval, unrest, and mistakes that often go hand-in-hand with major innovation. It’s fitting that the Japanese word kaizen translates to “good change.”