The neat thing about this basic idea is firstly that it’s probably pretty close to the truth. Yet there are a number of further presuppositions there that really open up the way for a whole new type of growth in any area you wish to apply the Kaizen principle to.
I think the most soothing aspect of the Kaizen philosophy is the up front presupposition that whatever you do, and no matter how well you do it, it can never be perfect.
It can’t be perfect, perfection being a state that is for angels perhaps, and the Creative at large to demonstrate to us, best as we may be able to even perceive such things.
Yet even from this state of imperfection, there is no need to be dismayed, or afraid, if you follow the Kaizen principle.
Here, we strive TOWARDS perfection - we do the best we can to make things better, every way, and every day, to move towards perfection in an evolution of simple endeavours, all the time.
Kaizen In Practice
Bring this thought down a few dozen logical levels, and what difference does that make to say, a student who is staring at a page of programming code, thinking as to whether it is perfect yet?
What difference might this make to an artist, standing before their finished painting and wondering if they might now place their signature beneath it and set it away so it may dry?
What difference might this make to someone who is getting ready to meet a new lover and staring into the mirror prior to leaving for the appointment?
It does two extraordinary things that are simply not appreciated enough by our black and white culture as yet.
Firstly, when the artist, the programmer, the lover tracks over the imperfections of their work, of their self presentations, of their efforts, they are expected to be there and indeed, rightful at this time for they are amongst the many feedback devices we have to track our journey through this life.
These imperfections in the brush stroke, in the code, in the make-up or physical features beneath the make up and the best dress, are not to be bemoaned or bewailed as though they represent some kind of dismal disaster, but they are there to be seen and accepted perfectly in this time, this space.
Secondly, it doesn’t lock the artist or the lover into failure or imperfection in any sense.
Because, you see, there is always room for improvement!
Three Cases For Kaizen
The Black And White Universe
How it happened, we may guess but never know; it may be in the structure of our language or in the structure of our logic, but the Western World still and after all these years of giving lip service to the quantum universe and all it’s riches, adheres on many, many levels to a deep and abiding belief in what I call The Black And White Universe.
The exclusive "or" from general semantics; the "either or" meta model violation in NLP.
We can blame Aristotle who stated, "A thing is either one thing, or another." and indeed, many do for what good that does. Aristotle, after all, was an imperfect being as we all are and if he had lived another 100 years or so, he might have changed his mind and the world we live in today would be very different indeed.
May this be as it may, it is so that Western folk think very much in terms of black VS white - winning or losing (no brownie points for second place), living and dying, and most destructively, right VS wrong.
When you listen to clever neuro-semanticists and quantum physicists and such folk talk, you’d never believe that these same people tell their psychiatrist half an hour after the enlightened lecture they just gave to a thousand grateful and admiring students, that they are "not good enough", that they have "failed" at x, y and especially z; that they "are" x and "not" y, and could never be y, and that’s so depressing, they went to see a psychiatrist!
To apply useful principles of the universe back to oneself on a very personal level is an intriguing and extraordinary challenge that not that many take up, mostly because they don’t actually know they are doing this on a regular basis.
Black And White Thinking. What a show stopper.
Going back to our programmer, artist and lover, if they were to operate from this perceptional position, they would look upon their handi- and mindi-work and conclude that because there are imperfections that must mean what they have created is wrong - for how can something imperfect be right? be good? ever be "good enough"?
For you see, in the Black & White Universe, we also have the horrendous distinction between good and evil. Right is good, and evil is wrong, right? But what if you are wrong? What does that make you by black and white cause and effect logic and absolutely without any way out of it?
If you are wrong, you are evil. Ooops.
Note that in these global terms there is no way out. You can’t be a little bit evil no more than you can be a little bit pregnant. Either you are, or you’re not. Case closed.
And it is at this point that the programmer smashes his fist down on the keyword and deletes his developing application, the artist throws paint on his work in disgust, and the lover goes down on their knees and tears their hair and never even leaves their home.
Granted, the above examples are the high end range of this kind of Black & White Disorder (or BWD, for short - he was schizophrenic, borderline, DID and BWD, it said in his psychiatric report ...).
But like all so called mental illnesses, everyone does these strategies, just not quite as passionately as those who have been diagnosed and sectioned.
Backward Hurdling Away Form Success
It has come to my attention that a great many people never get to manifest a great many projects in their lives (courting another with absolute congruency, creating a web site, writing that book, making that record, courting companies for that job, etc.) because of the process of "backward hurdling".
This is a strategy whereby once the project has been thought of in the first place, all kinds of hurdles to it’s successful manifestation are put in place - "Before I can make that record, I have to buy a better tape recorder, a better microphone, take singing lessons, take more guitar lessons, get a better guitar, learn how to read sheet music, conduct a comparative study on producers, recording studios and their respective track records, lose 500lb (in case the record is a success and Melody Maker wants to take a photograph of me), get a new printer for promotional materials and mailings to radio stations, etc. (mentally insert a big, automated, pretty infinity symbol sweeping elegantly through it’s double curves, forever, endlessly).
This is an effective strategy to stall that moment when you come face to face with the finished project and in spite of everything you have to realise with absolute horror that after all of that, it still isn’t perfect and you have failed, yet again.
I’ve known a good many people who manage to stall this moment successfully to a point on their timeline that lies well beyond their passing from this plane.
With this entrained and usually entirely unconscious mind set, one might ask, who gets to do the manifesting in a culture that thus hamstrings their apprentices?
Well, a lot of times those who are insane, obsessional, cracked under the entrainment or found a way out because they could do no other; the borderline autistic because they have no idea of condemnations and judgments from others that become condemnations and judgments through the self in time; and the Courageous.
For it does, indeed, from the mindset of the BWD, take immense courage to step up and show your imperfections outright, out front, and not to run away before the "battle has even begun".
I know someone who has "Vires Per Virtutem*" in their signature line, and that, indeed, is one way out of the dilemma - black or white, which is it to be?
*Vires Per Virtutem - Strength Through Courage
Kaizen To The Rescue!
The Kaizen mindset helps with this. You don’t need that much courage when you clearly understand that no body is perfect and that there cannot be any man made object, computer programme, body, skill, behaviour, whatever that can ever be.
It’s always flawed - that’s the truth.
And that’s not a reason to throw your hands up in horror and declare everything to be a failure and the end of the world, quite in the contrary.
It is in its truest sense, the beginning of the world.
Of a whole new world where nothing is stuck, no-one ever loses at all, cannot lose at all unless, UNLESS they give up and turn away.
Where improvement and the desire for improvement opens up all kinds of new possibilities and thought processes.
Where improvement does not have to be a massive Earthquake that changes black to white, good to evil in an instance, some kind of far-fetched miracle that just happens to you or that might never happen because your karma decrees that you have to stay a loser forever.
Where any small improvement, no matter how innocuous, no matter how tiny, is a glorious step in the right direction, an event to be celebrated and greeted with joy, and the next tiny improvement (which is sure to be found soon enough!) is expected with excitement and the wondering just how it will make what more effective and just how this as-yet-unknown little improvement will affect the totality of the system you are working with.
This is the world and the principle of Kaizen.
Kaizen Needs A Seed
There is only one single thing in the universe that cannot be improved upon apart from the creative itself, and that is nothing.
A nothing cannot be improved; in and of itself, a nothing is perfect, perfectly invincible, beyond reproach, beyond any judgment, beyond any expectation, entirely invulnerable and entirely eternal.
So it does make some sense that if you seek perfection, a nothing is something pretty neat to be trying to create or manifest - you can’t "go wrong" with a nothing.
If the passion, drive, thought exists however, by needs we turn to manifesting "something" instead - a thought that precedes all the other events that might or might not follow, sometimes also called "a dream" or "an idea".
I call this precious little thing "a seed", or you could think of it as a reality seed.
The artist has an idea for a picture which is the seed; there must have been a time when our programmer noticed something that started them off on the journey towards writing this new application, and the lover might have had an idea at some time that they are ready to try and make a relationship.
Now, imagine the disappointment if you were to plant a sunflower seed, go to bed and next morning, fully expect a six foot sunflower in bloom, beautifully straight and supported by a big strong stem and luscious, huge green leaves greeting you with a sunflower smile.
Look at what we have instead! It is pathetic! Miserable, tiny, two miserable things that don’t even look like leaves - what the hell is this! This is no sunflower! And, lightning conducting the immense hurt of disappointment, the novice gardener smashes down their fist and destroys the seedling in a flying fury.
Armed with Kaizen and the thought that things firstly are as they are, and secondly that they undoubtedly will improve with some effort, they may stand the little thing closer to the window and even take it outside on sunny days, because you can see how those little leaves are desperately stretching in that direction.
A process has begun that by needs, must lead to a most beautiful and respectable sun flower in time.
Practical Applications & Techniques of Kaizen
Well, so here we have seeds and metaphorical sunflowers. All very well and even a little moving in the true style of motivational speeches, but what is the good of it for us imperfect beings struggling right here with our own limitations in the hard?
Cast your mind back to our neuro-semanticists who are lying on the psychiatrist's couch and telling their patient doctor of how they are a terrible (failure, lover, housewife, poker player, musician, worm, father, mother, brother, etc.etc.etc.).
We all know by now that you cannot apply Aristotle’s famous, "A thing is one thing or another" to human beings in the context of character traits, psychological attributes and labels for these nominalisations which in and of themselves are also nominalisations.
You can be one thing, and another thing, and another two hundred thousand other things beside, all in one single sack of skin that walks on the plane I call the Hard.
For personal reality creating, it is absolutely essential to use the Kaizen principle on the practical manifestations on such nominalisations, such as, "I am a bad father".
Firstly, this is as it is and nothing but the starting point - it is further more than nothing which cannot be changed but a something that can be improved.
With the Kaizen notion of continuous tiny improvements rather than trying to face the impossible task of changing a "bad father" into a "good father" overnight and with the correct angelic interventions and requisite enlightenment experiences, the "bad father" might try and just once this week, smile for one second at one of his children instead of scowling.
In Kaizen, this is an improvement and cause for celebration and, as described previously, carries with it the excitement and the expectation of the next tiny improvement.
Kaizen & Chaos Theory Enlightenment
As long as anyone who thinks about the above example and still thinks to themselves, "But at this rate, it would take beyond the man’s death to ever be a "good father"!"
These anyones may consider themselves as having been instantly diagnosed with a mild form of BWD.
There is no such thing as a "good father". There is only an imperfect human, that is all there can ever be. Hopefully, there may be a father who has overcome his BWD and is becoming a little tiny bit more effective, a little tiny bit more supportive, a little tiny bit less annoying and child-mind-damaging as time moves on.
However, and aside from this which in and of itself would be greeted by whole hearted cheering and probably many tears of joy from those who still have fathers, nature rarely progresses in a linear fashion and our neurology does so even more rarely still.
These tiny improvements are the equivalent of the famous chaos theory metaphor of a pile of sand that consists of single, individual sand grains. One after the other is added, and the pile of sand keeps its shape and becomes just larger.
Yet there is a point at which the addition of just one more grain will cause the whole pile of sand to collapse and undergo a dramatic transformation the "straw that breaks the camel’s back" principle in action.
You may be far more familiar with unpleasant outcomes such as the camel with the broken back, but these breakthrough chaotic system shifts occur of course in the "good way" all the time.
Pieces of evidence are collected towards a self belief, such as "I am a great artist" and there comes a time when just one more review (after a thousand similar reviews) creates the threshold breach and the artist themselves believes it then, too.
Reality has been created, change has become manifest, and the artist will then go on to create at a whole new level altogether, with their previous doubts set aside and the road ahead wide and clear, indeed.
The Kaizen method of tiny incremental improvements is the perfect device for anyone at all, no matter how downtrodden, no matter how damaged, no matter how desperate, to turn it all around and start on the way to creating holistic systemic shifts of an extraordinary nature.
Kaizen - Hope For The Future
Here is the last and most remarkable gift of Kaizen - to give us all hope for a better future and a pathway of action in the now to go towards it.
It doesn’t matter at all how long something has been going on, there is always hope and always room for improvement.
All it needs is the seed of desire to improve something, to change something that needs changing or wants changing or would be serving you and those you love in a better way.
Whatever your perceived limitations, think again.
Kaizen will stop you from berating yourself when you have failed yet again and get you to start searching for that tiny improvement that will make the next failure not quite the same kind of failure.
Kaizen will stop you from stopping yourself in a hundred and one situations, every day.
Kaizen creates counter examples to self beliefs and decisions, no matter how ancient they may be in your case or how you think they are set in stone - it chips away at old illusions, a flake at a time, and it will bring them crumbling down eventually, with as much certainty as the sun will rise again.
Tiny, tiny improvements.
Things you can do. Simple, small things that don’t overreach you, or overstretch you, or set you up for more failure still - small, guaranteed successes and tiny improvements.
Kaizen is a most powerful technique for change.
I would offer it to you with all my best wishes, for you and to share it with your loved ones too.