Could Japanese Philosophy reinvent your career in 2023?

Could Japanese Philosophy reinvent your career in 2023?
Partner content

Sometimes it’s the small incremental changes rather than the big steps which contribute most to success. But how does this work in practice?


Kaizen (literally meaning good change) is the Japanese philosophy of improving yourself or a process by taking small, incremental, daily actions, which then form habits that stick and, ultimately, help you succeed.

First practised in Japanese businesses after World War II, Kaizen was influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way –– a set of principles defining the organisational culture of Toyota Motor Corporation.

These principles (which drove the manufacturer’s innovation) had at their heart a humanising philosophy, one that intrinsically motivated workers to change processes, procedures and themselves for the better.

Instead of punishing employees for errors, Toyota encouraged workers to stop production at any time to fix a problem or provide suggestions to management about how to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

As a result, Toyota’s factories experienced fewer costly errors and benefitted from continuous improvement. This philosophy of Kaizen has since been adopted globally, revolutionising multiple industries, from healthcare to software development.

While Kaizen is typically applied to industrial processes like supply chain and logistics, it’s also incredibly helpful in our personal and professional lives.

Thoughtful adjustments

Think of it as an antidote to every “go big or go home” motivational trope you’ve seen in your newsfeed.

Kaizen is less about hustle or adding to your workload and more about thoughtful adjustments, accepting failure and applying learnings in order to work better. Underlying the Kaizen approach is a dedication to improving effectiveness, satisfaction and waste.

Since it is a philosophy and not a rigid system, it is flexible and adaptable to your working style, preferences and personality.

You can plug-and-play select practices depending on what resonates for you. For example, some people live by the mantra to “get 1% better each day”. Others opt to incorporate Kaizen through the 5S approach (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardise, Sustain).

If Kaizen’s principles sound burdensome in theory, it’s a fact that humans are hardwired to seek improvement, meaning most of these principles can be applied intuitively.

Whether you’re trying to be more productive at the office by reducing interruptions or attempting to finish a creative project, these tips can help you get there––gradually.

1.   Do less

One of Kaizen’s core principles is waste reduction and it comes into play in more scenarios than you might think.

A key to unlocking more productivity is to do less, not more. Take stock of what you need to stop doing. We’re frequently unaware of the attentional leaks that permeate our day so start by auditing your schedule.

Track every task you perform and the time involved over a few weeks. Once you have this pool of data, assess whether each task is truly needed or if you are just operating on autopilot.

If you determine a task is mission critical, how can you do it better or faster by scaling yourself?

2.   Go small

As you start to identify areas for improvement, the key is to start with bite-sized changes. Think tiny.

Often, our instinct is to go big. We get impatient and want results, if not overnight, then within a week or a month.

But when you consider that incremental improvements over time are much more likely to stick (as opposed to sweeping cataclysmic changes), starting small seems increasingly appealing, although it does take patience.

If these methods don’t make a difference, keep trying something else. And if they do make a difference, continue to refine your new found habit, little by little.

3.   Review and reflect

For Kaizen to work, you need to reflect on how things are going, especially when you sense a friction point. Like a Toyota employee stopping the production line, pause and document points where your personal productivity hits a snag or you find yourself getting annoyed, frustrated or distracted.

Those reactions signal a break down in the system that needs to be repaired but more importantly, an opportunity to practise self-control and slow down.

You can implement an official one-hour weekly review on a Sunday night, for instance to prioritise your focus and projects for the week ahead. It’s important to strike a balance between optimisation and appreciation by integrating both positive and negative experiences.

In Kaizen, it doesn’t matter whether the change happens at once or is a constant, whether the change is big or small, as long as it is a change for the better. And while Kaizen won’t change your life overnight, it can set significant changes into motion––bit by bit.

Experts agree that when teams or groups implement Kaizen, they circumvent the upheaval, unrest and mistakes that often go hand in hand with major innovation. Today Kaizen is utilised worldwide as an important competitive strategy pillar in many successful companies.

If you’re looking to adopt Kaizen as part of your career development in 2023, it’s worth checking out the Mediatel Job Board for progressive organisations like Roku, which prides itself on creating a unique and strong culture of constant improvement. The company champions independent thinkers and encourages employee purpose and accountability to accomplish goals through collaboration and trust.

Discover similar team working principles at TikTok, which strives to foster a dynamic, collaborative and inclusive workplace. If you’re inspired by bold ideas, confident of embracing ambiguity and willing to take on calculated risks, there are a wealth of exciting opportunities here from content strategy roles to e-commerce jobs.

If your career goal for 2023 is to experiment, test new ideas and improve yourself, check out current open roles at Spotify. At this global organisation, those who prioritise well and possess an ability to find pragmatic solutions to problem-solving will thrive. In order to continually improve, the company culture actively encourages workers to productively challenge and influence other teams and managers.

For more career opportunities and to find a job that encourages real growth mindset, visit the Mediatel Job Board where you can browse a wide selection of open roles right now

Mediatel Jobs banner

Media Jobs