Implement a Continuous Improvement Plan to Improve Your Life

Today I want to talk about the Japanese.

Before you start yelling out sushi requests, let me clarify myself a little bit: I want to talk about the way that the Japanese make cars.

These days, Japan is the largest auto manufacturing country in the world. Japanese vehicles are often preferred over those made in other countries because of their superior reliability and dependability, efficiency, and advanced technology. (This is true if you ignore the recent Toyota debacle.)

The Teachings of W. Edwards Deming

Now I have a question for you – have you ever heard of W. Edwards Deming?

It’s okay if you haven’t

W. Edwards Deming was an American statistician, professor, and consultant that is best-known for his work in Japan. Beginning way back in 1950, Deming taught the top management of auto companies in Japan how to improve design, product quality and testing and even sales. He is basically considered a hero in Japan, even though most Americans have not even heard of him.

Deming helped the Japanese become leaders in the auto industry, but keep in mind that the Japanese were willing to work so hard to improve that they were willing to bring in “an outsider” for advice and assistance. They continue to improve to this day. Perhaps that is why they are so successful with business.

Introducing The Kaizen Principle…

The Japanese have a belief known as the Kaizen Principle. Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement” and the Kaizen Principle refers to the philosophy or the practices which focus on continuous improvement. The Japanese apply Kaizen to just about everything- manufacturing, engineering, management, banking, health care, government … the list goes on and on.

The Japanese respect and embrace the idea of continuous improvement. When a company embraces Kaizen, it creates a daily action plan to study the systems being used and how they can be improved upon. They focus on learning from mistakes and eliminating activities or procedures which waste time. Japanese auto-industry leader Toyota is known for implementing Kaizen.

Kaizen was first brought into Japanese business practices after World War II. It was partially influenced by American business and quality management teachers who visited their country – such as W. Edwards Deming.

Improve Your Life by Adopting a Kaizen Mindset

We can all learn from the Kaizen Principle and W. Edwards Deming. We’re all striving to improve (I know I spend a little time each day trying to improve myself) so it can’t hurt to have a little philosophy to follow.

It’s simple, really … every day, strive to do something better. You don’t have to move mountains (although that would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?) but getting just a little bit better at something every single day will help you out in the long run.

Use a Success Journal

Similar to the Japanese having a daily action plan to improve, I have something that I call my “Success Journal.” Basically, I try to write myself a few notes every day as a reminder of what I’m aiming to improve in my life at that particular time.

A Success Journal is an easy tool to help you out with you own personal development quest. You don’t have to go out and buy a fancy leather-bound journal. All you have to do is type a few sentences on your computer, or just write in a spiral notebook. It doesn’t matter what your success journal looks like.

Let’s say that you are trying to expand your social circle and meet new people, but you’re having trouble doing so. Making new acquaintances is probably going to help you out in more ways than one – you might wind up meeting people that can help you with your business, you might make some great new friends, and you might even meet ‘The One’ (if you are single, that is!)

You can keep a Success Journal and apply the Kaizen Principle to this process.

You can create a few short goals to aim for. Let’s say that this week you want to meet 10 new people. Every day, try to be a little more outgoing and speak to a few more people. You might feel funny at first, but hey – we’re working on self-improvement here, remember?

Tracking Your Success

Start keeping track of your efforts in your Success Journal. If you start talking to someone at the Food Court in the mall and give them your business card on Monday, make a little note on Monday night. On Tuesday, aim to strike up a conversation with two new people, since you want to improve upon Monday’s achievement. On Wednesday, introduce yourself to three people … you get it, right?

It’s not hard, but most of us never think of things these ways. We used to be forced to write things and keep journals back in elementary school (well, I was, anyway) but we seem to lose the habit as adults. There’s nothing wrong with keeping personal records of our successes (and failures.)

Just think of the Japanese and spend each day focusing on Kaizen!

Take Action. Get Results.

12 thoughts on “Implement a Continuous Improvement Plan to Improve Your Life”

  1. Steve,

    The Japanese and the Kaizen as you say have proved to be very successful. The Japanese companies in the UK have also adopted the principles, well you would expect them to wouldn’t you. These comapnies have had the same success. However, the principle don’t seem to have taken off too much with British companies, unless I’m mistaken.

    We could all learn from the Japanese working proceedures, both in business and personal life. Perhaps it’s our culture that’s the problem rather than the system.



  2. Steve,

    Here is what went on in my head as I read this post. You mention Japanese automaker, I think “I hope he mentions Deming.” Sure enough you did. Next, you talk about a success journal. I stopped reading, got up and found an extra Daily Datebook and started a success journal. Awesome article man. Great tips. A truly great read.

    It would be nice if Deming were around today to help the US automakers. They could really use him.

  3. The ironic source of Dr. Deming’s idea of continuous improvement is that he learned it as boy on the Wyoming frontier. He observed the government agricultural extension agent teaching the farmers how to continually improve their farming. Eventually with their guidance the US became the leading producer of food and fiber in the world—the basis of our economic success. Deming put that together with cooperation and gave up blame, linear thinking, competition and obsession with certainty and control to create a revolutionary management theory: how to manage a complex social system in a rapidly changing world. He focused on continual improvement of the people, the processes and the products and services. There’s lots more. Look at our website. But somehow it is too challenging for the present American or Western mind. Dr. Deming would often nod and say: “Survival is optional.”

  4. @Paul- Definitely can learn a lot about work ethic from the Japanese. But that being said, there’s another Japanese word I like—Karoshi. Which is what happens when you work yourself to death. I think it’s incredibly important to put maximum effort, but not kill yourself in the process.

    @Alex- Thanks! Glad you found this useful. I’m a huge fan of trying to make little improvements each day. Then after months and months of effort, you can look back and see how far you’ve gone.

    @Clare- Thanks for your comments and for stopping by. I never heard about a lot of what you just mentioned about Deming.

  5. Hey Ralph—Let me know how the weekly plan is working out when you finish. To be honest, I’ve been tweaking this sucker for 3 years now. And I’m sure in another few the new version won’t look anything like the one I described.

  6. I guess this is one of the reasons why customer service in Japan is so darn good. I love the idea of creating a success journal. I think I’ll try it so I can start making faster progress towards my goals!
    .-= Kathleen O’Connor´s last blog ..Friday Link Lounge – May 14, 2010 =-.

  7. Hey Steve,

    I really like the relation of your DAILY success tracking to the Japanese successes. I recently spent some time setting several goals and wanted a way to keep track of progress and build accountability. I set up my blog at as sort of a journal of my progress and what I have been learning along the way. What it, and my system in general lacks is daily success tracking. I sort of check things off as I go and don’t think of them again, but I think it would help to track those little steps forward.

    Thanks for the tip!

    .-= Ben´s last blog ..11 Free Tools To Promote Your Blog =-.

    • No problem Ben. I’ve found it’s important to make a daily tracking of stuff that will help you make subtle, but important improvements.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you need any help!

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