Have you ever tried a new diet that is presumed to be foolproof? It promises to be an overnight success and you’ll drop 10 pounds right away. The spokesperson says, “I can’t believe I lost so much weight in only three days!” Invariably, these diet schemes never seem to work in the long run. If they did, we’d all be on the same diet and looking fit and trim. To make matters worse, research shows that people don’t stick with their diet and end up gaining more weight since they’ve been starving themselves. Time passes and they jump aboard the next fad diet and the cycle continues.
Instead of attempting drastic changes in the hopes of achieving immediate positive results, I have a better suggestion for you. Don’t worry! It’s not a late-night television pitch that I’m offering. I’d like to introduce you to the concept of “Kaizen.” Kaizen is the practice of improving yourself or a process by taking small, incremental, daily actions, which then forms habits that stick and, ultimately, makes you succeed.
While this Japanese term has an exotic and ancient feel to it, Kaizen was ironically developed by American businessmen. The U.S. government didn’t always have the multi-trillion dollar war budget we have now and was financially unable to efficiently build new armament factories to fight World War II. A plan was devised to have industries make small, continuous improvements to existing plants and retrofit their factories to build the new weaponry. This system grew into a business philosophy. Factory floor supervisors were challenged to look for hundreds of small things to improve upon, as there was not enough time or resources to make sudden big changes to their equipment.
America introduced the concept to the Japanese after World War II in an effort to help them rebuild their economy. The Japanese took this idea and drove with it. The idea of small, continual, incremental improvements became known as Kaizen. Japanese auto companies, particularly Toyota, readily adopted this technique and eventually started to outperform their American competitors.
The philosophy of Kaizen is incredibly helpful in our personal and professional lives. Instead of trying to make radical life changes overnight, you should start with small, daily improvements. Focus on getting 1% better each and every day. Small-scale improvements start compounding on the previous day’s accomplishment. At first, the changes will seem inconsequential. Gradually, you’ll start to notice improvements. Over time, there will be profound positive changes. One percent compounds each day and doubles every 72 days. When people say “the rich get richer”, it’s true. If you start off with a lot of money and invest it conservatively, even at a modest rate of return, the interest will compound and your wealth will grow tremendously over the years.
Please don’t expect instant results, as it’s a boring, tedious—but effective—small gains approach. For example, in football, it’s the equivalent of grinding out a couple of yards at a time in a cloud of dust, instead of throwing the exhilarating Hail Mary pass at the last second of the game.
Real long-term change will emanate through small, continuous incremental improvements. For example, if your goal is to find a new job, here’s how you could implement Kaizen:
- Day 1: Start putting together a résumé or revise the one you have now.
- Day 2: Update your LinkedIn profile.
- Day 3: Start networking on LinkedIn.
- Day 4: Contact a recruiter.
- Day 5: Try speaking with a few other recruiters to gauge the job market.
- Day 6: Meet with the recruiters to discuss opportunities.
- Day 7: Search for relevant jobs online.
- Day 8: After finding some suitable positions, email your résumés in response to the job listings.
- Day 9: Inform close friends and colleagues that you are looking for a new job and ask them if they have any leads.
- Day 10: Purchase a new interview outfit.
- Day 11: Search for networking events in your field to attend and network.
- Day 12: Sign up for the events.
- Day 13: Schedule and attend an informational interview.
- Day 14: Go on a real interview for a real job.
In just two weeks, you’ve made significant traction. Find something that you’d like to improve upon and try to do 1% better than the day before. Don’t get tempted or become impatient and rush headfirst into everything all at once. Your mantra is to take it slow, steady, consistent and focus on doing things a little bit better than you did the day before.
Just like you shower, brush your teeth and comb your hair every day, incorporate Kaizen self-improvement techniques into your daily routine, and you will be amazed at the long-term results.