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Kaizen versus New Year’s resolutions

Kaizen versus New Year’s resolutions

The first new year’s resolutions were made 4,000 years ago. Kaizen became popular only 30 years ago. While most New Year’s resolutions fail, Kaizen is proven to lead to significant business improvements.

Published on
January 2017

Many people are thinking about New Year’s resolutions at this time. Actually, 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions .

New Year’s resolutions are an old tradition. The ancient Babylonians were the first people to make new year’s resolutions 4,000 years ago. We wouldn’t recognise the practice to what we know today. Firstly, their new year didn’t start on 1st January. It started in mid-March. Secondly, I think it is fair to say that the Babylonians’ resolved to do slightly different things! They promised to pay back their debts and return things they had borrowed.

I don’t know, perhaps you have resolved to pay back your student loans, or return that Library book from 1996! Today though, most New Year’s resolutions revolve around self-improvement. Common resolutions include losing weight (21%), giving up smoking, and finding a better job.

Many entrepreneurs will have made resolutions too. We all return from a few days off with renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps you have resolved to start out on your own, break into a new market, or improve customer satisfaction.

Sadly though, most resolutions are abandoned quickly. 27% of resolutions fail within the first week ! Less than 6 out of 10 last beyond the first month. And 55% don’t last past 6 months. (Statistics from www.statisticbrain.com )

“Kaizen”, on the other hand, is all about continuous, incremental business improvement day-by-day.


The modern concept of Kaizen, or Ky-zen, was introduced to the Western world in 1986. This was the year that Masaaki Imai brought out his book “ Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success ”. The Japanese word “kaizen” itself only means change for better . Literally it translates in to English as “change good”.

The concept of Kaizen, as we know it, means much more than the literal translation of the word. In its simplest form, it means “continuous improvement”. As Toyota put it a “ continual striving for improvement in every sphere of the company's activities ”. As a philosophy, it includes the principles that:

  • improvement is everybody’s business
  • problems will always be most apparent to those closest to the process
  • take action to correct root causes of problems
  • many small corrections have a big impact

In reality, I can’t hope to fully explain the nuances of Kaizen in one article. Masaaki Imai’s book is 260 pages long!

There have also been many variations and adaptations over the years. Sometimes the word Kaizen is also used for one-off improvement projects – such as “Kaizen Blitz” projects. While short-term projects can be very effective, they are a step away from the idea of continuous day-to-day improvements. This incremental improvement goes to the heart of Kaizen.

Improvement will be achieved in different ways in different industries. The truth is though, adopting a culture of continuous improvement can have tremendous results. Just a glance at the success stories from the Kaizen Institute shows this. Companies have experienced 30% reduction in time to market, 18% productivity improvement, 35% productivity increase, 50% stock reduction… the list goes on.


Which is better then, New Year’s resolutions or continuous improvement?

Are you one of the 41% who make resolutions each year? Do you also fail each year? Don’t be embarrassed if you do, you are in the majority!

Have you made any resolutions for your business? To do something better, to take on more staff, to increase sales, to reduce costs, to increase customer loyalty…?

Why not ditch the usual resolutions this year. Instead, try to improve continuously, day-by-day, little-by-little! Many small adjustments make a big difference. It really does work! And of course, if you need help with your business process improvement plans, you can always ask a professional.

Whatever your plans for 2017, radical or incremental, I wish you all the best with them.

This article represents my own interpretation and opinions – and isn’t professional advice. If you would like help managing your process improvement initiatives, please contact me for a consultation. If you have had a good or bad experience with process improvement or with your New Year’s resolutions, or you have any tips to share, please do tell us about them in the comments section below.

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Middlestone Business Analysis helps small businesses achieve more with their existing resources. We help reorganise operations, automate tasks and install customised processes and systems to keep small businesses organised and to speed up administrative work. To learn more, visit our services page.

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