You may think that ancient Japanese art forms and modern inventory management apps have nothing at all in common … but they do. Their connection springs from the recent business adoption of kaizen, the Japanese focus on improvement in work, life, and home.
Stick with us in this article and you’ll learn why everything you’ve heard about kaizen is wrong, why that should matter to you, and how all this connects to today’s cutting-edge technologies. You’ll also learn how you can use the correct understanding of kaizen to keep your employees happier, more productive, and increasingly valuable to your company.
Start your path to business improvement and increased employee happiness right now when you learn how Scanco’s wide range of inventory management and warehouse automation tools can empower your employees. Contact Scanco online or call (330) 645-9959 to learn more.
Sorry, but What You Learned about Kaizen Was Wrong
As the Japanese concept of kaizen has been integrated and co-opted into the American business landscape, a large part of its meaning has been lost. Kaizen, meaning “improvement” or “change for the better” in Japan, has been incorrectly translated as “continuous improvement” in America. This is a subtle difference to be sure, but one that should matter deeply to your business.
The problem lies in that little word: continuous. Unfortunately, that one word often leads smart, savvy business leaders to feel that big, one-time changes somehow aren’t as valuable as constant, tiny changes. And when we talk about tiny changes, we’re talking about metrics.
Metrics are great—when they measure the right things. The problem arises when you think they have to measure things continuously. For instance, some companies implement new technology in order to improve productivity; new warehouse management systems or new inventory management apps are often popular choices, we hear (wink).
Implementing brand-new tech can cut production or processing time in half once all employees have been trained on the system, which is an incredible improvement. However, in the quest for continuous improvement, managers often focus their attention on tiny, granular details after the one big change, asking: “How can we shave thirty more seconds off each process? How can we increase productivity even more?”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to optimize your business processes; however, there is a point of diminishing returns. That point usually kicks in when efforts to optimize machine-based processes result in rules that transform quirky, intelligent, highly unique employees into mere machine operators intent on improving their production times to near-perfect levels.
Over-regulated employees are unhappy employees, and unhappy employees are unproductive employees. But, with a workplace understanding of kaizen as “continuous improvement,” it’s a common misunderstanding that big, one-time changes aren’t enough: the business tools you use have to keep improving your workplace in order to continue delivering value.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The True Focus—and True Gains—of Kaizen
Yes, in the future, machines will have displaced a small portion of the workforce, but skilled humans will still be in high demand. You might be skeptical about the move toward workplace automation, but we assure you, robots will not take your jobs. Why is this? Because machines are terribly, horribly stupid. They literally cannot think for themselves.
Though tech companies love to say that their product has “artificial intelligence” (AI), they’re all lying to you. Every single one. Machines haven’t attained artificial intelligence yet, and it’s questionable that they ever will. That’s because the term artificial intelligence, coined in 1955 by computer scientist John McCarthy, states seven separate criteria that machines need to display to be considered intelligent. Among those seven traits: reasoning, creativity, and abstraction.
Sorry machines, but those are solely human skills. Machines and business management tools, no matter how “smart” they are, will never be creative. This is because, by definition, our machines must do what we tell them to do. Creativity, on the other hand, is the act of coming up with something entirely new and different.
And the machines’ lack of creativity is why our understanding of kaizen as continuous improvement is deeply, deeply flawed.
When companies focus their attention on continuously improving their machines, sure, they may make small, measurable gains over time: a minute saved here, a streamlined process there. But machines will never be as talented or as motivated or as creative as your employees are.
The place to focus your improvement initiatives is your employees.
Redefining Kaizen to Include Inventory Management Apps
Let us just state right now, for the record, that we’re not in any way opposed to the idea of continuous improvement. In fact, making positive changes in your business is the only way to survive today’s volatile—and highly competitive—business landscape.
But machines alone cannot make your business stand above your competitors. Only your people can.
If we redefine our understanding of kaizen as “improvement,” whether that be one-time big improvements or continuous small improvements, we’ll have the power to truly, constantly improve our companies by pairing large, sweeping changes with small, ongoing improvements.
In your company, this pairing could take the form of implementing a new inventory management app that increases your inventory counting time by 75% and reduces wander time throughout the warehouse … with a company-wide initiative to build your employees’ skillsets.
This dual approach to kaizen is likely to improve employee morale, increase productivity (a lot), and increase your employees’ value over time—which means they’ll have the capability to come up with the creative solutions your company needs to continuously succeed in our ever-evolving business world.
For 20 years, our people have been helping your people do more, faster and better, using innovative, time-saving inventory management apps, barcoding tools, and warehouse and manufacturing automation software solutions. If you’re ready to save time at your company and usher in a culture of improvement or kaizen, please contact Scanco online or call (330) 645-9959 to learn how we can help.