Innovation and Kaizen are not oil and water:


Kaizen is likely the most used Japanese word in the world of manufacturing. Kaizen simply means to improve for better. The “zen” part of Kaizen is not the same as the commonly known word “Zen”.

zen = virtue or good

Zen = literal meaning is “meditation”. This Japanese word has roots in the Sanskrit word “dhyan”.

It is quite possible to achieve Zen through kaizen. 🙂

This post is about the relationship between kaizen and innovation. Kaizen is often described as continuous improvement through small changes while innovation is described as a big change, or a complete breakthrough. The current paradigm is completely destroyed. From afar, these two concepts seem different – almost like oil and water.

What is the relationship between innovation and kaizen?

The book Kaizen Teian III (later published as The Improvement Engine) by the Japan Human Relations Association, states that kaizen cannot thrive without innovation.

This is an interesting concept – if kaizen is continuous improvement through small changes, how can a company stay competitive just by making minor improvements? The book describes innovation as a bulldozer cutting a path through a rough terrain. Improvement activities are described as a means to leveling the path cut by the bulldozer, and paving it into a smooth road!

KIFigure taken from Kaizen Teian III.

The book further states that there is nothing more wasteful than trying to activate a kaizen system in a company that is not engaged in innovation! Trying to clear a path in a rough terrain with a pick and shovel will not do when you competitors are using a bulldozer.

My thoughts:

What is the purpose of kaizen?

There are two objectives for kaizen;

  • Continuous improvement to make work better
  • Development of employees so they can be better at problem solving and developing others.

If kaizen can be described as a bottom-up process, then innovation can be described as a top-down process. You cannot move towards your ideal state (true north) without one or the other. You need both bottom-up and top-down forces to move towards your ideal state. They both create the perfect recipe for kaizen culture.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my previous post was about ESP and statistics.


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