We are all familiar with the Greek Story writer Aesop’s tale of the ‘Hare and Tortoise’. We have heard this right from our childhood. The hare challenges the tortoise to run a race. The tortoise takes the challenge. The hare is quite sure and overconfident of his nimble feet and his win. He starts quickly and covers a considerable amount of distance very easily and then dozes off thinking that the tortoise will never catch up with him. Meanwhile, the tortoise keeps on moving one step at a time and soon catches up with the hare who is still dozing off peacefully. The tortoise is the first to cross the finish line. The moral – Slow and steady wins the race!
This story exactly depicts the principle of Kaizen. Kaizen is a famous Japanese philosophy that means ‘continuous improvement’. It is like the tortoise taking one step at a time towards the finishing line. It comes from two Japanese words, ‘Kai’ and ‘Zen’ which mean ‘Change is good’. This was developed after the American Professor W. Edward Deming introduced his theory to the Japanese called Deming’s theory. He was the one who gave us the cycle of Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA) which the Japanese later developed in the Kaizen Principle of continuous improvement. To encourage minimum wastage on the production line and maximum output, the Kaizen philosophy introduced the 5S Principles which are Japanese Window words – Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. 5S Principles evolved through the Toyota Production System that focussed on minimizing wastage of what we call Lean Management.
Though these principles are for a workstation in a production company let us see how we can use the 5S Principles for our Self Development.
- Seiri(Sort) – Seiri principle encourages employees to sort out the things on their workstations as necessary or unnecessary. There are many things for example on our work desk that we rarely use but they are scattered on the desk and make our work more confusing and complicated. They dissuade us from being organized. They can become a distraction to our smooth functioning and development. The principle encourages us to ‘red tag’ such unwanted material and separate it from what is necessary and useful.
In our personal lives for our personal development, we can use the 80/20 Pareto Principle to sort out what is necessary and unnecessary. 20% of things in our lives help us to develop by 80%. We have to identify such vital things that are necessary to our growth. They may be planning our day ahead, meditation, exercise, note-taking, smiling, focussing on our purpose and goals. Once we have identified the essentials we can very well say no to the non-essentials like social media, gossiping, daydreaming, going for long breaks, addictions etc. Remember when you organize, you are sure to rise!
- Seiton(Set in order) – The second ‘S’ in Kaizen is for Seiton which encourages the employees at workstations to set in order their types of equipment as per their needs and priorities of use. This principle can be briefly termed with the phrase – A Place for everything and everything in its place. Once what was unnecessary was done away with, now what is necessary, has to be organized as per its importance, value, priority and usage.
In our lives too there are 4 areas that we need to give our attention to. We have to be able to say that in these 4 areas of my life “There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.” These four areas are our mind (intellect), body (physical needs), heart (emotional life, relations) and Spirit (Significance and meaning). How many of us can say that we give proper time to all these areas of our lives? We take time every day to stimulate our intellect to help us grow, we take time for exercise and see that we are doing enough for our bodily needs as well as our and our families’ sustenance, we lead a balanced social life and our relationships are well oiled be it with our family members, our neighbours or the people at work or in the society. We are also connected to our ‘True North’ our true purposes in life and as Maslow put it ‘becoming everything we are meant to become’. Once we are able to put all these facets of our lives in place and maintain the balance by giving them attention and our time, we are on our way to exponential growth and results in our lives.
- Seiso(Shine)- This principle in the 5S of Kaizen encourages the employees to keep their workstations well marked and clean. They are encouraged to take the responsibility that their workstations, their equipment, and surroundings are properly cleaned and shining. How do we apply this principle to our lives?
When we talk of our personal lives, we are well aware of the importance of thoughts. Our thoughts give form to our words, which in turn produce our emotions and then actions follow. Actions will become our habits, and finally, our habits will either make or break our destiny, depending upon whether we have formed good or bad habits. So Seiso is about keeping our thoughts, words, deeds clean! When we think in the right way, when we think good thoughts the corresponding words and actions will follow which in turn will go on to form our habits and destinies. Here the Rotary Organization’s 4 questions come to mind which I believe we should always ask before entertaining a thought- Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and good relations? And finally, Is it beneficial for all? Once we pass a thought through these filters, we can be sure that we are forming good habits that we will be thankful for in the future.
- Seiketsu(Standardize) – Seiketsu is a principle in Kaizen philosophy that encourages people in an organization to have a standard to follow. Whatever doesn’t fit the standard is rejected. So test and see if something works. If it does – keep it. If it doesn’t – throw it away!
When we discuss personal development in relation to this principle, we have many things in our lives that further our cause and purpose and then there are things that obstruct our digress us from our purposes. We have to know the ‘standard’ in our lives that is conducive to our progress and growth and anything that is against the standard we have to learn to reject it. Like Stephen Covey said, “It’s easier to say ‘no’ when there’s a deeper ‘yes’ burning within”. That deeper ‘yes’ is the standard that we need to adhere to. Many of us are confused with what to accept or what is acceptable behaviour? Let’s take an example. Let me ask you what will work for you a smile or a frown. The answer is too obvious. So ‘smile’ is one of the standards that we ought to live by.
- Shitsuke(Sustain)- The final 5S Principle of Kaizen is called Shitsuke meaning Sustain. Sustain is ‘keep on keeping on’. It is easy to establish a standard, but it is difficult to maintain it. It is easy to rise and be successful but very difficult to keep or sustain it. So, this principle encourages the employees to sustain the standard that works for them and to make it a custom practice, a habit.
It takes a trigger, action and reward loop to form a habit. For example, my friend comes for tea at my table this triggers my action of smoking; I smoke and the nicotine works on my physique calming and soothing my senses – that is a reward. This is a negative example of how a habit is formed. But for personal development we have to do certain things that work for us, that further our purposes till they become a habit. Someone rightly said, “A good habit is difficult to form but easy to live with; a bad habit is easy to form but difficult to live with. This principle encourages us to continue with what works for us in our lives and sustain it till it becomes a habit and this takes discipline and training. But it is a discipline that we will be thankful for in the long run…
Conclusion: So, let’s sum up the 5S principles of Kaizen. Sort out what helps you and what does not; be balanced by giving time for your mind, body, emotional life and spiritual life, keep your words, actions and thoughts clean; have a standard (values) to live by and finally maintain the standard so that it becomes a habit. Let me end with this wonderful quote by Jim Rohn, “Success is a few simple disciplines practised every day.” May the 5S principles lead you to success!
By Sohan Tiwade,
Professional Speaker & Corporate Soft Skills Trainer, ‘The Edge’; Assistant Professor at Sanjay Ghodawat University.