A Chinese saying is as follows:
“When a man has not seen his friend for three days, he should have a good look at his friend with widely opened eyes to see what kind of changes have happened.”
Probably, this saying represents a Chinese way of describing their belief in continuous improvements. In the West, on the other hand, managers worship at the altar of innovation. Innovation means to make improvements by investing a large sum of money in equipment or introducing the latest technology to make a big change. While Kaizen subscribes to a gradual improvement, innovation subscribes to a big revolutionary change. Some may wish to call it a “big bang” philosophy.
While Kaizen comes in small steps, innovation comes in big steps. Kaizen subscribes to conventional know-how and common sense while innovation pursues technological breakthroughs. Kaizen is effort-based, while innovation is investment-based. In Kaizen, we constantly review the process to see if the desired result is obtained while innovation looks for the result only.
Different Approaches Between Kaizen & innovation.
The following story is a good illustration of the two different approaches between Kaizen & innovation.
Recently, our Kaizen consultant in Germany reported that the plant manager at one of his clients was about to buy additional machines to handle an increase in business. At the consultant’s advice, he collected data on the usage of the machines and found that they were actually used only 38% of the time. Therefore, the consultant advised the manager to introduce various Kaizen projects, such as better maintenance, setup time reduction and quality improvements. As a result, the company saved 15 million Deutsche marks and yet was able to meet the increased orders.
Innovation-minded managers tend to resort to buying new machines, hiring more people, or introducing new technologies when business prospects are bright. However, whenever management wishes to buy more machines, to hire more people and request more budget, that is the best time to do Kaizen.
In today’s stagnant business environment, Kaizen may be a more desirable alternative than innovation.
A popular phrase often heard in Japan is as follows:
If you have no money, use your brain. If you have no brain, sweat it out!