Kaizen and the Power of Small

Have you heard of Kaizen?  

It is often referred to as small steps towards continuous improvement, but it is so much more. For me, discovering the gentle but powerful philosophy of Kaizen was life changing.

Lots of people and programs talk about small steps. There isn't anything really revolutionary about this wisdom. Mark Twain is quoted as saying:

 "The secret of getting ahead is to get started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

You may have tried breaking things down into small steps with varying degrees of success.  Or maybe when you hear small steps you think "Who has time for that?  Not me, I have too much to get done!"  I thought that too once.  Then I found Jill Badonsky's Kaizen-Museā„¢ Creativity Coaching program and I learned about Kaizen small steps.  

So what's different about Kaizen small steps?  Well for one thing they can be really, really small.  Laughably small.  So small that you can't fail to take the step.   

OK, I thought, I will give this a try.  My 'demon' is clutter and in particular paper clutter.  So my first small step was going to put one piece of paper away a day.  So for the next 30 days guess how many pieces of paper I put away.  Zero.  

This wasn't working.  What was I doing wrong!!

First, telling myself that I needed to do something every day was setting me up for failure.  A kinder way would be to say 'more days than not'.  Then if I missed a day I would still be succeeding.  And Kaizen small steps are about creating small success moments.

Second, I couldn't see how putting one piece of paper away would make even a tiny dint in my paper clutter.  I had falsely assumed that I needed to stop after completing my small step.  Kaizen small steps are meant to be continuous and led naturally into another small step.  It's ok to stop after one but not mandatory.

Third, I was resisting filing that first piece of paper.  I knew that Kaizen small steps can help to break through resistance and procrastination so maybe my small step wasn't small enough?  No, it was pretty small.

Finally, it dawned on me that I really didn't really like my small step.  Kaizen small steps need to engage your spirit and not just your logical side.    

So I asked myself the small question, "How can I make this more fun?".  The result was to engage my playful side.  I named my filing cabinet R.O.S.I. ( Receptacle of Significant Information). Over time R.O.S.I. developed a personality and filing became like feeding her.  I also had R.O.S.I. write me a letter and tell me what she needed and wanted me to do.  It became a game.  

And it became a learning moment. 

What I learned was that the Kaizen small steps are really small and engaging.   And with the right small step you can shift from inaction and stagnation to action and metal alertness with your imagination firing on all cylinders.  This tiny shift can be life changing.

As a creativity coach I help people to find their next small step so they can experience the power of small for themselves.  What small step might you try to build momentum towards a goal or dream you want to achieve?  Can you make it smaller?  Does it feel like the right next step?