Kaizen vs. Kaikaku

A very thought-provoking quote from Toyota's president, Katuaki Watanabe in HBR (via Mark Graban, via The Association Renewal blog):

There’s no genius in our company. We just do whatever we believe is right, trying every day to improve every little bit and piece. But when 70 years of very small improvements accumulate, they become a revolution.
In lean terms, there are two kinds of improvement. The familiar one is kaizen, which refers to steady but incremental improvement. The other is kaikaku, which means revolution, or radical improvement.

Kaizen is boring and laborious. Kaikaku is sexy and exciting. Kaizen is your spouse of 15 years. Kaikaku is the smoking hot blonde on the barstool next to you.

Kaizen is sorting through the piles of paper on your desk, throwing out the garbage, filing away the stuff of value, and actually taking care of the rest of it (filling out expense reports, or completing performance evaluations). Kaikaku is installing a new $1.5 million centralized database where you can scan, store, and search for all the crap that used to fester on your desk.

Kaizen is investing the time and effort to establish service level agreements within your organization, so that people don't feel compelled to respond to every email within one minute of its arrival. Kaikaku is establishing "email-free Fridays."

Kaizen is creating standard work for meetings -- and following it. Kaikaku is installing $250,000 worth of videoconference hardware to enable people to attend meetings without the risk of being late.

Watanabe's comment reminds me that the difference between kaizen and kaikaku is a false choice. Done long enough and consistently enough, kaizen actually becomes kaikaku.

Take a look at your own work: what incremental improvements can you make today? What small change can you make to help you gain control over email? What small change can you make to reduce interruptions from co-workers? You don't have to find a complete solution to your email problem, nor do you have to completely eliminate interruptions. Rather, you should look to make a small improvement. And once that takes hold, look for the next small step you can take.

It's the difference between hitting a sngle and hitting a homer. They'll both get you a run, but singles are a lot easier to come by than homers. And you're less likely to strike out.