Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24
When I was thinking about New Year’s resolutions, and why they often fail, I came across the kaIsen concept which originated in the United States, but the Japanese took it and perfected it. Kaisen, in Japanese, means improvement. The concept is simple and involves the idea of continuous improvement in very small increments – just 1% at a time.
You’ve heard the expression that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well the kaisen concept espresses that statement. It puts the focus on each brick, not just a whole city. It’s easy to think about bricks, but less easy to conceptualize building a city.
In 2010, David Brailsford was hired to direct and manage the British professional cycling team. His task was to make a winner out of them at a time when no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France and the team had only one Olympic goal to their credit. He was tasked with changing that failure, and his approach is so incredibly simple.
Brailsford was interested in kaisen which is the concept of “aggregation of marginal gains”. That’s a complex way of saying that very small gains, over time, will produce big results. He believed that if he could improve every aspect related to cycling by just one percent, those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.
He did the normal things you might expect by getting small improvements in their equipment and nutrition, as well as their weekly training program. But his search for “one percent” improvement didn’t end with the obvious. It included finding the best pillow to sleep on and finding a better fitting seat for the bicycle.
They even searched for better ways for the bikers to wash their hands to avoid getting infections or colds. His goal was to make little changes over 5 years which would produce a British winner at the Tour de France.
He was wrong: it only took 3 years. In 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. It didn’t stop there. At the 2012 Olympics, the British team took 70% of the gold medals in cycling. And, in 2013, another British cyclist, Chris Froome, won the Tour de France again.
So, what is the take away from using Brailford’s approach? Jim Rohn put it this way: “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”
Almost every habit – good or bad – is based on small decisions made over time. We underestimate the effect of making better decisions one at a time. Improving one percent at a time probably isn’t notable or even noticeable at the time. But over a long time, it results in a significant difference.
It works both ways – if you have developed bad habit or are getting poor results, it’s not because something happened yesterday or the day before. It happened gradually as the sum of small choices – the “one percent“change in reverse.
Most of us won’t be training to win the Tour de France. We might, however, set as a goal to lose 30 pounds, or grow spiritually by reading the bible at least four times a week. The result of our small daily changes can pay big dividends. Losing 30 pounds might be easier if you think about cutting back on something small like one less soft drink a day.
If you decide that you want to be able to do more push ups, don’t try and do 100 to begin with. Start with one on the first day. On the second day, do two of them, and then three on the third day. That’s how incremental change will improve your strength over time.
If everyone in your organization is thinking about making small changes around them, it can be a positive thing. The improvements don’t have to be huge to be beneficial – just 1%. It can be contagious to an organization.
The challenge here is to look at your habits that you want to change. What improvement you want to make in your life or your habits? Then look at what small daily steps – the “one percent” – that you can modify to reach the goal you want to accomplish. It’s a great model to adopt, and you might even succeed by winning a race along the way.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The kaisen improvement concept can help your mentee start small changes to bring about big changes over time.
FURTHER STUDY: James Clear writes about the improvement of the British cycling team. http://jamesclear.com/marginal-gains
For a 2015 article on Kaisen in the Harvard Business Review:
Another article on Kaisen: http://ignorelimits.com/kaizen-definition/#
WORSHIP: Life is complex, but no matter what, “One Thing Remains”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_KXsMCJgBQ
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