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You can find a lot of information about Kaizen, the basic Kaizen rules as well as more specialized Kaizen rules for teams on this blog. Now let’s look at the same topic from a slightly different perspective. Let’s talk about the so-called Anti-Kaizen. It’s a toxic mindset and includes all the limited beliefs that prevent any kind of improvement and progress.

Before we go to Anti-Kaizen, make sure you remember all the Kaizen rules. The best thing you can do is to download and print the rules and stick them to a visible place in your home or your office. When stuck, look at the list, read the rules, and you will refocus your brain on the path towards the solution, and hopefully stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s the best way to avoid any kind of Anti-Kaizen behaviour.

You can download the documents here:



Now let’s go to the most frequent Anti-Kaizen beliefs.

Negative beliefs that prevent any improvements

There are 13 quite frequent beliefs and toxic behaviors that prevent any kind of progress and improvement. You’ll find that kind of behavior in many toxic and unproductive environments, where the status quo is the only constant; and most people in an organization like that are nothing but zombies. Well, even the status quo is only a mirage, because if you aren’t going forwards, you’re going backwards. There is no status quo in the long run.

Here they are, Anti-Kaizen beliefs and situations:

  1. Lying to yourself
  2. Victim mindset and being stuck in an emotional cage
  3. “There’s no need for improvement” mindset
  4. Lack of time
  5. Firefighting and enjoying adrenalin rushes and dramas
  6. Lack of confidence in self and others and lack of courage
  7. You want to change others, not yourself
  8. Getting in trouble for failing or pointing out the problems
  9. Not following up on ideas
  10. Giving up too quickly
  11. Solving problems with additional administration
  12. Hoping that others will do it for you and waiting for better times
  13. Jumping to solutions too quickly

Lying to yourself

If you lie to yourself about where you are, there is no need for improvement. Many times, we like to picture ourselves or even the world as a whole in a much more beautiful scenario than it actually is (or, in some cases, much worse than it is, if the necessary improvement is to relax, for example). But in general, people are very indulgent towards themselves, lying where they really stand, and great critics towards others.

  • You can lie to yourself that you live healthy just because you regularly use olive oil
  • You can easily lie to yourself by only looking rich and not really being rich
  • You can lie to yourself about how productive you are every day, but in reality only work a few hours on the things that matter most
  • You can lie to yourself that your job is pretty okay, but in reality you suffer a lot and so on

If you want to make any improvements in your life or in any organization, you first have to know where you are. And be extremely honest about it. Today, that’s quite simple with all the data available. Never lie to yourself. Always be honest and seek the truth. Know where you are and where you want to go. Then start improving yourself or an organization step by step. For example, don’t only look rich, actually be rich.

Don't Lie To Yourself

Victim mindset and being stuck in an emotional cage

The victim mindset is one of the most common reasons why people get stuck and never start improving themselves, their life situation and the environment around them. It’s very easy to blame others, from your parents to the government, market trends, life in general, and so on. And many times, you have every right to do so.

But it doesn’t help anyone. Whining, bitching, complaining and feeling sorry for yourself never bring results, improvements or more happiness, only more sorrow. You only live once and if being stuck in an emotional cage is preventing you from improving and growing, start dealing with your past, your emotions and all the cognitive distortions. It’s the best option you have, no matter how difficult your past was.

There is always a move you can make in your life towards a better position. After you stop being a victim and take full responsibility for your future, you will easily find a move you can make. Don’t be a victim, take control over your life once and for all, and start improving. If you focus on problems, you’ll only get more problems in life, and if you focus on solutions, positive things will start happening to you.

“There is no need for improvement” mindset

You can have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you assume things are as they are and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you believe that there’s no need or no room for improvement, you won’t improve. Why would you?

Nevertheless, studies show that a growth mindset is one of the top personality traits of successful people. The most successful people constantly improve, even when they’re on top; because there is no top. In addition to that, the organizations that constantly learn and improve are the ones that are winning in business.

The conclusion is therefore pretty simple. If you want to be successful in life, you need to grow, you need to evolve and you need to constantly improve. It’s one of the reasons why you’re here on this planet.

“I/We have always done it like that” is the most evil sentence ever.

Lack of time

Many times, people work so hard that they don’t even take the time to look around and analyze if they’re digging the right hole. Until it’s too late. A lack of time should never be an excuse for not brainstorming and implementing improvements. You always have to work smart as well.

Therefore, the AgileLeanLife Productivity Framework has three levels of planning – the strategic, tactical and operational level. You have to see the woods and you have to see all the trees. You must always take enough time to plan and make improvements in where you go and how you do things on all three levels.

There is a very simple test that shows your speed of improvement. How many things are you doing differently now than you did six months ago? If the answer is none and you’re only working hard the same way you did half a year ago, because you don’t have the time to improve your working methods, it’s time to change something.

If necessary, make sure that your first improvement is that you start dealing with improvements at all.

Firefighting and enjoying adrenalin rushes and dramas

People who are prone to deadline adrenaline rushes and dramas in relationships rarely take the time to stop and analyze how to improve. The frequent reason for that is the existence of an internal conflict. Improvements take away the drama, unproductive adrenaline rushes and other toxic behaviors. And you simply can’t focus on improvements if you need to feed your emotional monsters.

An important part of improving yourself is to become happier and more satisfied, productive, relaxed etc. Firefighting and playing a drama queen means going in the opposite direction. The solution is simple. If there is any kind of drama, anxiety and constantly chasing deadlines in your personal or company culture, it’s time to start improving fast.

Not to be too extreme, everyone finds themselves in such a situation from time to time, but if it’s a part of the culture or how a person operates and it happens more often than not, then that is big Anti-Kaizen behavior.

Lack of confidence in self and others and lack of courage

As I mentioned many times, it’s not easy to implement new changes, even if they are positive ones. We are all afraid of change on the biological level. Nevertheless, you simply need the courage to face your fears and start improving. The first step is to have more confidence in self and others.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. In the same way, doubt kills more improvements than failure ever will. Skepticism, cynicism, excessive sarcasm, drama, negativity, indecisiveness etc., they all kill creativity and potential for improvements. Believe in yourself and believe in people around you. There is nothing to doubt about, to be honest. Your growth and personal improvements (or the improvements of family or company culture) are the best possible investments.

Improve Or Not To Improve

To improve or not to improve?

You want to change others, not yourself

As cliché as it sounds, change always begins with you. First you have to understand (system, process, environment, relationships, history etc.), then you have to ignite the spark in yourself with a great vision and a powerful mission and only then change and adjust yourself to the right vibration in coherence with the system to start influencing other people and implementing change.

Implementing change is always a carefully and surgically orchestrated process that starts with changing yourself and adjusting your actions to face the least resistance from environmental forces.

Why do you have to change yourself first? Well, it’s easy to blame others. It’s easy to see flaws. It’s much harder to come up with good solutions. It’s even harder to analyze the system and pull the right moves to implement a change step by step in a very non-invasive way. Everyone wants to change the environment, shape it more to their liking, but nobody wants to change themselves first. But that’s the only place where the change really begins.

Before you can start implementing change, you have to find common ground with the environment and then build on it. To find the common ground, you have to first change yourself.

Getting in trouble for failing or pointing out the problems

If you judge others when they fail or make a mistake, you’re doing a very Anti-Kaizen thing. But there’s a catch. Usually people never openly criticize failure, of course. They do it with gossip, silence, sarcasm, mockery or some other type of intolerant emotional behavior. That kind of behavior means people get in trouble for failing and making mistakes.

A whole different thing is if you show curiosity for why something didn’t work, if you’re interested in what has been learnt and in the new ideas for how improvements could be made. Because Kaizen people have to feel emotionally secure and not be afraid to fail and make mistakes. You show people that it’s okay to fail with words and emotions.

Make sure people don’t get in trouble if they show you the problems or if they fail when trying something new. It means they care and that they have the willpower and probably many good additional ideas for what to try.

If you get in trouble for failing or showing the problems, explain to your boss what the Kaizen philosophy is and how it can help the organization. Try to find a way for moving the system towards the philosophy of constant improvement. But if it’s not worth your energy, if you don’t care enough, find a different system that will appreciate your ideas and suggestions, and vice-versa, a system where you will really care and have the power to test and implement new ideas.

Not following up on ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Testing ideas and executing the best ones is pure gold. For implementing change, you simply have to be a doer, not only a talker. You must have a culture of immediate implementation and execution. Not following up on ideas is one of the most Anti-Kaizen things you can do besides having a victim mindset.

There are several reasons why there’s usually no follow up on ideas. Either the ideas are too complex or completely unreachable, or there are strong emotional issues that block the implementation. Going back to basic Kaizen rules and having an honest conversation is the best cure for a situation like that.

Giving up too quickly

Implementing change is no easy task. It not only takes motivation and creativity, but also a lot of patience and a long-term view. Changing the culture of an organization can take years, for example. In reality, implementing change is not very different from going on a diet. You have to work hard and make sacrifices now, for benefits that are far far away; while eating sweets gives you instant gratification and the punishment in excessive fat and bad health seems far away. That’s why it’s so hard to go on a diet.

The reason why it’s so hard to implement any change is the same. Because you have to put in the effort now for results and benefits you will enjoy sometime in the future. But if you stay in the status quo, you don’t have to put in any effort and the punishment comes sometime in the far-away future.

With time, the hard road becomes easy and the easy road becomes hard. So you must have a long-term view for every change you plan to implement. Never give up too quickly. Even when you lose motivation, remember that tomorrow is a new day to start over. And don’t overestimate what you can achieve in a few months and don’t underestimate what you can achieve in a few years.

Solving problems with additional administration

Many times, when we identify the root problem, additional administration in the process seems like the right solution; but in reality, it rarely is. If you take that kind of an approach, you can soon find yourself drowning in paperwork and everything becomes counterproductive. Never let additional administration be your best solution, you can always find better solutions than additional paperwork.

Let’s get back to a practical example of the 5 Whys technique and how it can help you focus on the process that was presented in the Kaizen rules for teams. It’s very simple: you describe the problem and start asking yourself “why”.

  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
  • Why? The battery is dead. (first why)
  • Why? The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  • Why? The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  • Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, the root cause)

After the last “why” and discovering core problem, one of your first solution may be, let’s add a checklist or some other form of paper to the process. Or an engineer should sign dozens of forms on what s(he) has done, and so on. Many times, our initial ideas include additional bureaucracy, who knows why. But that’s rarely the right solution.

Hoping that others will do it for you or waiting for better times

An interesting thing can happen. When markets go up, they can solve many problems so you don’t have to improve at all. Or sometimes you get a rock star in your team who solves many of your problems and, again, you don’t have to improve. Sometimes a few problems die on their own. It can happen, problems can be magically solved without you making any improvements.

But hoping that others will implement changes and improvements instead of you, or waiting for better times that will take care of everything makes no sense at all. Because sooner or later, new challenges will come and afterwards, you may be in an even worse position. The main idea of improvements is that you become better and more competent and capable. You want to develop abilities to tackle problems better, provide more value, and so on. Inner assets or competence, if you want, are one of the most powerful securities you can have in life.

It’s also one of the reasons why you’re here on this planet. You don’t want to be deprived of the feeling of satisfaction when you win a battle with yourself and change to a better version of you. The feeling is awesome.

Jumping to solutions too quickly

Jumping to conclusions without any real proof is one of the cognitive distortions that happens to people very often. Jumping to solutions too quickly, without any testing, experimenting and measuring, is what often prevents real change to the better. It’s not that hard to come up with a solution or ideas for what to do. But it’s usually quite hard to come up with a solution that works and can be realistically implemented with sustainable effects.

You need a systematic and scientific approach to implementing improvements. You need to measure your progress. You need to use real data, not just your hunches and intuition. Just coming up quickly with a solution and thinking that you’ve done your job is definitely an Anti-Kaizen approach; after all, you’re breaking rule number one of not lying to yourself.

You must not wait for the perfect timing or the perfect solution when implementing improvements, but on the other hand, acting without thinking is damaging as well.

The key takeaway

The roots of Anti-Kaizen behavior lie in either the wrong mindset or toxic emotional behavior. Therefore, you have to deal with both of them – mindset and emotions. Rationally, you have to see constant improvement as the common sense you simply have to follow in order to achieve your peak performance. That’s usually the easy part of the equation.

The emotional part is much harder. But there is no other way than to work on more self-confidence, facing your fears with courage and dealing with laziness and procrastination or whatever holds you back from becoming the best version of yourself. Sometimes playing it safe is no different from being locked in a safe. Upgrade your mindset, face your fears and start improving yourself.

Kaizen rules!

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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