Obi-wan’s 2nd Guest Blog: Kaizen

Recently while reading the cover article in the May 8, 2012 edition of Bloomberg Business Week, “We’re From Private Equity, And We’re Here To Help – My week as an Efficiency Expert” by Brendan Greeley (pg 54) I got to thinking about the concepts of Toyota Production Methods particularly Kaizen and how they relate to sports. My mind started to wander and, as you all know from your own personal experience, when that starts to happen there is no control over where it will end up. Mine went from the thoughts in the article about productivity and efficiency to my own experiences in corporate America to coaching our son’s 8th grade basketball team and from there to Abby’s running blog. To quote the Grateful Dead from Truckin, “What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been”!

Image courtesy of Grateful

In the article there is a great amount of discussion about productivity and efficiency and the methods developed and refined by the Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota, specifically the concept of Kaizen. Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better” and in practice focuses on continuous improvement of processes of manufacturing, engineering, development and business management. By improving standardized activities and processes Kaizen aims to eliminate waste in manufacturing and production. (Translate to runners: train smarter, more efficiently = better results)

Image courtesy of

Many years ago while acting as a volunteer coach for our oldest son’s 8th grade basketball team I had the opportunity to see if a group of grade school boys could understand the concept of Kaizen that was gaining a great amount of acceptance in the business world at the time and apply it to their athletic endeavors to improve performance as a team and also as individuals. One week during our “chalk talk” prior to practice when we discussed the last game we played, how we did as a team and how we did as individuals within the team, we discussed the concept of continuous improvement and goal setting. We talked about applying Kaizen principals to specific goals of the team and of the individuals on the team and committed to a post game weekly review of those goals and performance against them.  To my great pleasure most of the boys embraced the concept and participated actively in the weekly reviews of goals and performance.

Kids who grew up in the 90s will get this.

I’m not going to try to say that the team developed into a great team as a result of using advanced business concepts with an 8th grade group of boys. That would be misleading and untrue. The team played up to it’s potential and, at times above it, and the individuals on the team did the same. We had a lot of fun and grew as a team and as individuals. However, the thing that was striking was how they at that young age they could understand and execute business concepts that in some cases adults working in a team environment could not.

Since then when thinking about how to improve my own physical fitness I have tried to embrace the principals of Kaizen, or continuous improvement rather than trying to make huge leaps forward. In my own personal training and conditioning activities, I have had the opportunity to deal with multiple surgeries and various infirmities that have either compromised my exercise activities for periods of time or forced me to totally abandon them temporarily. Each time when I restarted my exercise regimes it was with a focus on restarting with a program that included realistic goals and to measure my progress against those goals with the concept of continuous improvement as the measuring stick. In doing so I tried not to push myself too fast or build Rome overnight but to make continuous improvement daily, weekly and monthly against where I had been previously.

Now I don’t know if anyone is still reading or if all of Abby’s regular readers have clicked off now thoroughly bored with the musings of an old guest blogger but if anyone is still reading thanks for staying with me to the end and please remember it’s not always about winning but the personal journey that you experience in getting to the finish line.

This post hits especially close to to home for me since I watched my Dad do this in real time and am currently starting from Square One myself, fitness-wise. I take to heart the idea of continuous improvement, day by day, and putting emphasis on making the smart choice for myself today that will get me to tomorrow where I might challenge myself yet again to try to walk a little further, stand up a little longer and try a little harder. My thanks to Obi-wan for his words of wisdom for us all. May the Force be with you.

 Now go out and run!