Complemented by management concepts like Total Quality Management (TQM) and Six Sigma with its impeccable standard of 3.4 defects per million parts, (the Six Sigma Concept was popularized in the nineties by Motorola) it seemed that Kaizen would be the cure-all solution to all the problems affecting sustainable business operations. But is it?

The main strength of Kaizen has also proved to be its Achilles’ heels. Kaizen’s forte is in the ability to improve and deliver quality at lower cost. That in itself seems to be its greatest problem. In time, people began to discover that, as Paul Cook, the founder of Raychem, put it, you cannot continue to reduce costs and grow. Why? Most times when companies claim to reduce costs, such measures do not significantly affect top Management whose perks and income are hardly touched. The real fall-guys in the system are those in the lower rungs of the ladder.

While companies focused on improvements in supply, cost, management, production, distribution and pricing processes, they practically ignored opportunities and ideas for growth. It may be very convenient to keep costs low in order to sustain operations. The problem with that is that there is nothing spectacular in cutting jobs. Real growth is driven by the capacity to keep creating jobs! If all you do is keep tinkering with your system in order to maintain or improve status quo, you might soon be on your way to becoming a dinosaur. The pursuit of perfection for perfection’s sake may prove on the long run to be an economic disaster.

Incrementalism, the process of making change by degrees, is an essential component of Kaizen. However, this may prove to be antithetical to growth. To experience exponential growth, it is more needful to reengineer the paradigm instead of trying to improve on it. There is nothing like “New, Improved…” as the manufacturers of a popular detergent in Nigeria would want us to believe. It is either improved or it is new. The two cannot feature in the same product! I laugh my head off when people talk of something as “brand new second hand” Nothing like that exists!

Interestingly, even Toyota that popularized Kaizen has not used it as the major platform of driving the exponential growth of the brand worldwide. True, Kaizen may have brought Toyota into global reckoning but it has long ceased to be the reason why the whole world still roots for Toyota products. Kaizen has ensured that quality is assumed in Toyota brands. However, the driver of the brand’s growth is the very antithesis of Kaizen. It is called INNOVATION. Even when the brand name is the same, year in year out, the models have witnessed such startling changes that have continued to appeal more to the customer’s aesthetic perceptions than product fortification!

The real problem with Kaizen is that it constantly uses status quo as its raw material of operation. It looks for better ways of solving an existing problem. Innovation on the other hand, starts its thinking at the fringe of status quo and instead of enlarging the box, seeks to break it. How? Through disruptive thinking that acknowledges the boundaries but goes ahead to imagine that they don’t exist! Because he sees no boundaries, the disruptive thinker feeds on the ashes of prevailing thought patterns. In today’s world, not to innovate is to be suffocated and eventually decimated!… to be continued.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

In a competitive market, Kaizen benchmarks competition and tries to add one or two other features to the product that the competing brand does not have – preferably at no extra cost – and then uses those extra features as its Unique Selling Proposition.

This is where the problem is! The focus is always more on competition and the existing brands in the market. The way to go in the emerging market may sound weird but yours truly would like to know a more plausible alternative. Unless of course your goal is not sustainable growth. But if you want to grow sustainably and sustain your leading edge, NEVER THINK COMPETITION.! Rather, outthink and out-innovate.

Competition no longer exists. Except in your imagination! What do I mean? Instead of seeing or thinking competition, think ALTERNATIVE! All products that offer similar services in the market are simply a bunch of alternatives available to the customer! The person who is able to create the alternative that solves the customer’s problem best is what he settles for! Most of the time, price is not even an issue! Where the customer sees price as an issue is when he has to make a choice among several products that practically offer the same things and with no particular distinction in value presentation. In that case, why buy one at a price far above the others when there is no corresponding enhanced value to justify such investment?

In his 2003 classic “NEW RULES FOR THE NEW ECONOMY”, Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor of WIRED magazine opines and I agree, “wealth in the new regime flows directly from innovation, not optimization; that is, wealth is not gained by perfecting the known, but by imperfectly seizing the unknown”

A morbid preoccupation with Kaizen in the new global economy is a trip to suicide valley. Unfortunately, so many companies are still paying top dollar to have training in Kaizen. I have news for you. Well, the world has moved. The word out there is no longer about evolution. Unless you still think Darwinian. And the jury is still out on his theory. To thrive in today’s market, the focus is revolution. Kaizen is indeed dead. And this is your corporate invitation to its funeral!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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