C is for Being Committed To Continuous Improvement  


Peak performers embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen – continuous improvement. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. Different people do this in different ways.

During the 1980s I worked with sports teams that used this approach. After every game – and sometimes during games – we gathered the players together to focus on the following areas.

Continuous Improvement 

Building on strengths

The specific things we are doing well – and how
we can keep following these principles – are: 




Tackling areas for improvement

The specific things we can do better
in the future – and how – are:




Continuous Improvement
– Our Action Plan

The specific things we can do to keep building on our
strengths and also tackle areas for improvement are: 




Masaaki Imai is considered to be the father of Kaizen. He said that the original definition of Kaizen stemmed from two Chinese characters.

Kai meant change and zen meant for the better. The concept of change for the better was then translated into continuous improvement. Here are some of his quotes on the topic.

The Kaizen Philosophy assumes that our way of life – be it our working life, our social life, or our home life – deserves to be constantly improved.

The message of the Kaizen strategy is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company.

You can’t do kaizen just once or twice and expect immediate results. You have to be in it for the long haul.

One must standardize, and thus stabilize the process, before continuous improvement can be made.

Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everybody, without spending much money.

Kaizen is like a hotbed that nurtures small and ongoing changes, while innovation is like magma that appears in abrupt eruptions from time to time.


Kaizen was originally applied to manufacturing and other production processes. It involved everybody in an organisation – from the shop floor to the executive office – focusing on specific ways to improve the processes, product or service.

Some of these ideas grew from the influence of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. His work on Quality Management was widely adopted in the manufacturing industries in Japan. The application in this field also influenced some of the early terminology, particularly around the concept of improving production and business processes.

Masaaki Imai and others spread the Kaizen philosophy that was applied in many different countries and industries across the world. Sometimes the approach initially involved people making small, tangible improvements. This led to creating a culture of ongoing improvement inside an organisation.

Below are excerpts from the Kaizen Institute website. You can discover more via the following link.


What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Kaizen was originally introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986.

Today Kaizen is recognized worldwide as an important pillar of an organization’s long-term competitive strategy. Kaizen is continuous improvement that is based on certain guiding principles:

Good processes bring good results
Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
Speak with data, manage by facts
Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
Work as a team
Kaizen is everybody’s business
And much more!

One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time.  

However this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements.

While the majority of changes may be small, the greatest impact may be kaizens that are led by senior management as transformational projects, or by cross-functional teams as kaizen events.

Masaaki provides an introduction to these ideas in the video below. This was posted by the Gemba Academy. You can discover more about their work via the following link.


There are many approaches to implementing continuous improvement. Some people, for example, make sure they are always doing the basics and then adding the brilliance.

People who become complacent often forget to do the basics. Finding themselves in trouble, they then look for the magic bullet that will cure all their woes.

The solution, however, is often to go back to basics. It is to keep doing the right things in the right way every day. This increases the likelihood of achieving the right results. How to make this happen?

One approach I have used with people is to invite them to keep a weekly log called My Right Book. This is a tool I started using when running therapeutic communities for young people. Since then I have used it with athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders and other people.

The My Right Book approach encouraged a person to focus on self-improvement. Looking at the past week – or another appropriate time frame – it invited them to describe the following things.

My Right Book 

What I Have Done Well 

The specific things that I have done
well in the past week have been:




The specific things that I can do to follow
these principles more in the future are:




What I Can Do Better

The specific things that I can do
better in the future and how are:




Different people produced different examples. Here are some from people that I have worked with over years.

A teenager described the specific things they had done to be kind, encourage others and stay out of trouble, even when provoked. Looking ahead, they described how they could say ‘No,’ and walk on when offered drugs by former friends they met on the street.

A soccer player described the specific things they had done to organise the defence, make crucial tackles and hit good passes. Looking ahead, they described how they could retain their composure when dealing with incorrect decisions by the referee.  

A leader described the specific things they had done to communicate the vision, explain the strategy and make clear working contracts with their people. Looking ahead, they described how they needed to behave towards an individual who was causing havoc in the team.

Looking at what a person had written, we explored the examples. Sometimes this involved being more specific about the actual actions they had taken.

Sometimes it involved doing a reality check to make sure their examples held up. Sometimes I shared examples of when I had seen them perform well.

The session concluded with the person making action plans. Building on what they had learned, they focused on the specific things they could do in the next week. This often involved getting some early successes.

The My Right Book approach encouraged people to take more responsibility for shaping their futures. Becoming more self aware, they learned how to build on their strengths and also tackle areas for improvement.

There are many different ways to focus on continuous improvement. Looking at your own professional development, for example, how can you continue to develop?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you do well – or have done well in the past – and how you can follow these principles in the future. 

Describe the specific things you can do even better in the future and how.

Describe your action plan for building on what you are doing well and also tackle the areas for improvement.





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