When KaizenBiz community members suggest a post or topic, I listen and find a way to include it in our weekly chat. So, when Bernd Nurnberger (@CoCreatr) suggested a post on how Amazon is using kaizen, it seemed interesting to look at kaizen. Companies of all sizes are often looking for ways to be better, more efficient but there is also a desire to innovate products and services so they can capture more of the market. Where are the similarities and differences between kaizen and innovation? And can they co-exist in the same organization?
Kaizen – quick review
Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous and incremental improvement of a process. This process might be a manufacturing process, an accounting process or a customer service and the continuous improvements make the process more effective and efficient. Toyota is the most famous example of a company that uses kaizen although a number of companies also use it.
We’ve talked about innovation a few times on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz because it is somewhat elusive and much desired by nearly every company that exists. In “What’s All the Fuss About Innovation?“, I used this definition, “the process of translating an idea or invention to a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay.” Curiously, for this framing post, I ran across another definition from an Australian govemment initiative which described innovation as “…renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things.” With the Australian government’s definition, it might seem that there is little difference between kaizen and innovation.
Here are some other overlaps that spring to mind:
- Both kaizen and innovation rely on someone identifying that there is another (and better) way to do something.
- Organizational leaders must be sponsors and/or supporters for the changes to be explored and implemented
- They both depend on ideas
- Iteration is often part of the process
- Use creativity in problem solving
However there are differences
Even with a number of overlaps, there are ways that kaizen and innovation are not the same:
- Kaizen is a continous process that uses incremental steps and can be rigorous in its application across the organization
- Innovation can range from being small adjustments or changes or radical new things
- Innovation can seem chaotic or without structure due to the creative process
- Kaizen is typically anyone’s job in an organization while innovation tends to be assigned to a particular group of people
- Kaizen focuses on what is and how it can better and more efficient
- Innovation focuses on what could be and how it is new and/or disruptive
But can they co-exist?
There are a few dynamics swirling around organizations. One is the memory of the experience of the Great Recession is still very fresh so there are policies, business goals and expectations created in response. This is certainly prudent as companies are rebuilding and adjusting to the current circumstances. Another dynamic is the rapid progression of technological advancements. One of the other dynamics is this mindset that unless a company is innovative, it is unsustainable and will fail. In a Forbes post, Vijay Govindarajan is quoted saying,
“The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, [the more] it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation. The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different.”
That seems to indicate that they cannot co-exist. This opens a number of questions. Not all organizations are designed to pursue radical changes. There may even be a lack of understanding of both kaizen and innovation.
What do you think? Is there a place for kaizen alongside innovation? What similarities and differences do you believe exist? Join us Friday, February 28, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to look at this more closely on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz
Is there any chance that something is missing or missed as systems are tweaked and refined?
What is the difference between change and improvement?
In what ways could kaizen prevent innovation in an organization?
How could kaizen could co-exist with innovation? Are any adaptations necessary?