Ideas are your keys to the future. One new idea can change the entire direction of your life or your business. One break- through can completely change the focus of your company. One flash of insight, from yourself or from someone else, can open a door of opportunity that will enable your business to grow ten or twenty times in the years ahead. You must continually remain open to these ideas and flashes of insight in every- thing you do.
There are four excellent methods you can use to generate creative ideas and increase your maneuverability so that you can win in every business battle. These are the kaizen strategy, nominal group technique, mindstorming, and brainstorming. Each of these are idea generating strategies that you can practice both personally and in your company to increase the amount of originality and the level of innovation in your business.
The Kaizen Strategy of Continuous Betterment
W. Edwards Deming developed and introduced his quality improvement methods into Japanese manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s. In two decades, Japanese products, which had been referred to as “Jap scrap,” became synonymous with “quality” and “superb engineering.” These quality improvement methods took Japan from a country that had been completely destroyed in 1945 to the number-two economic power in the world within one generation. This transformation was built on the Japanese process called “kaizen” which means “continuous betterment,” or “continuous improvement.”
Each employee of every Japanese company is encouraged to look for improvements that they can make in their “line of sight.” What the Japanese found, and what you will find within your own business, is that there are always little things that can be done to improve quality or to increase efficiency in virtually every job. These improvements help the company adapt to changes in the market or in technology. Analogous to the principle of maneuver, the kaizen strategy keeps the staff of a company constantly on the alert to changing situations. These opportunities for improvement are usually right in front of you, right in your line of sight. They may be very small ways to increase efficiency taken one idea at a time, but the cumulative effect of hundreds and then thousands of little improvements, “continuous betterment” can lead to extraordinary increases in efficiency and productivity over time.
The kaizen technique is applied at every level of Japanese business and industry, from the entry-level employee sweeping the dock to the highest level executive running a worldwide business. What makes the technique effective is that each per- son is encouraged to try out his or her ideas on a small scale. There is seldom any need to get permission or authorization from a senior manager. The improvement can be quickly tested and modified right there at the workplace. If it is a successful modification, the results are shared with similar employees throughout the company. And the process never stops.
Look around you at your work. Where do opportunities exist for you to cut costs, increase the speed of an activity or process, reduce inefficiencies, or improve quality? Remember the song “Little Things Mean a Lot”? It is the same with continuous improvement. Hundreds and thousands of small improvements, spread over months and years, add up to an extraordinarily successful and profitable business. They mean a lot in terms of reduced costs and increased profits.