Kaizen blitz: Thousands of spiders can choke a lion

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

A LONELY guy walks into a pet shop wanting to buy a talking parrot as home companion. The owner shows him a parrot that has beautiful feathers, speaks Tagalog and a little Visayan and costs P35,000. He shows him another one with even more beautiful, colorful feathers that speaks English, French, and Italian. It costs P90,000.

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Then the guy sees a parrot in a cage in a corner of the shop. It’s pitifully small, with bald spots and grey feathers, and unattractive. “How about this ugly parrot?” The owner says: “You can have it for P130,000.”

The guy exclaims: “Wow! Does it speak several languages, too?”

“No. He’s mean and mouths several four-letter words.”

“Does it have any skills, like singing or dancing?” The owner smiles and says: “Not that I know of.” It just sits there all day.” The guy is puzzled: “Then why is it so expensive?”

“That’s because the other two call it The Boss.”

“Relativity is (relatively) easy to understand,” says Dan Ariely in his 2009 bestselling book “Predictably Irrational.” However, he claims “there’s one aspect of relativity that consistently trips us up. It’s this: we not only tend to compare things with one another but also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable—and avoid things that cannot be compared easily.”

Then we wonder: Why do unattractive bosses command a high price when they don’t have any apparent talent other than owning a business by sheer luck? Maybe it’s optimism. Anyone can be like a boss who marries his secretary and thinks he’ll be able to continue dictating to her.

When we buy things, we compare the price of similar models, like an apple to another apple without considering other variants, size, color, production process, or whether it comes from Japan, the U.S. or China whose workers may have used their urine to water the trees.

It’s funny and tricky when we talk about comparison. This often results in our everyday examples of oxymoron—like walking dead, jumbo shrimps, open secret, random order, small crowd, virtual reality, and of course, government service.

We can have a kilometric list of oxymoron examples. The latest in my list is kaizen blitz. Many of us who understand kaizen would be at a loss if it’s paired with the word “blitz.” The textbook definition of kaizen is gradual continuous improvement. The key phrase to define kaizen is by “doing baby steps.” It means slow but sure approach to improvement, similar in style to a turtle when compared to the rabbit or monkey that exemplifies “innovation.”

So how can you do a blitzkrieg approach with kaizen?

It can only be made possible if one knows how to design the BEST: First, continue doing baby steps of continual improvement as long as you like. As long you believe in never-ending improvement consistently and strategically, no one can beat you.

Second, all gradual steps must be done in symphony by everyone, every day, and everywhere. Require people to do it as part of their key result areas. Gary Hamel says organizations must rely on their “corporate sperm count” to solve everyday problems since you can’t rely much on a genius who comes in once in a blue moon.

Third, use only existing resources as solutions to any problem. Don’t hire additional workers, buy expensive machines or whatever. Study the situation well enough to generate as many low-cost and common-sense solutions to comply with Taiichi Ohno’s mantra of “use your brain, not the company’s money.”

And fourth, elevate the standard by constantly revising your target. It’s far more important to hit a moving standard and target, much better than making a weapon or pulling the trigger. After all, a moving target is better than a stationary one that can be readily copied by competitors.

Most managers do not know the meaning of kaizen until now or that it was invented by the Americans, through W. Edwards Deming, who formulated PDCA (plan, do, check, and act). Now, you know it well.

Kaizen blitz is possible if management understands the power of creating and maintaining an army of problem-solvers in the organization. You know what it means. When thousands of spiders unite, it can choke a lion to death.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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