Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Kaizen way of life

The business principle that made Toyota a role model in the global market can be applied to your personal life. Here’s how you can work smart to make your life more meaningful

The unparalleled success of Toyota made “kaizen” a commonplace work principle. What you may not realise is that kaizen is a principle that can be applied to all aspects of life. Kaizen is about innovation in the workplace. In personal terms, kaizen means having an improvement mindset. “Kai” stands for change. “Zen” means to become good. Kaizen is the principle of continuous improvement.

Kaizen is so useful to us personally because for many of us, change is hard and the anxiety it provokes in us often causes us to fail. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with a perfect image of the person we want to be, practising kaizen means that we focus on the smallest things first, the surmountable changes we want to implement. We take the first step and mastering that small change gives us the impetus to continue with changes.
In Western business, change often means trying to envision an unknown situation and planning for it. With kaizen, companies make constant incremental improvements that allow them to deal with obstacles and circumstances as they arise.
At Toyota, every employee was encouraged to take note of several things that they noticed could be improved and given the power to implement changes. These small improvements aggregated in a way that led to major innovation and success.

This kind of philosophy can help all of us to personally improve. Instead of thinking about who you want to be ideally, if you make a small improvement in your life every day, you can revolutionise your life over time without drastic and momentous effort. Kaizen means working smarter, not working harder. It’s about implementing practices that make your life more efficient and less wasteful in terms of your energy and time. And that will leave you a happier person in the long run.
 This is the process of kaizen in a business organisation:
1 Standardise operation or activity
2 Measure the standardised operation
3 Gauge measurements against requirements
4 Innovate to meet new requirements and increase productivity
5 Standardise the new, improved operations
6 Continue cycle

And here is the process as it may be used personally:
1 Standardise routines
2 Set or review goals
3 Measure progress
4 Consider new ways to effectively achieve goals
5 Create a new habit
6 Start the process again
The kaizen process is a two-week cycle in business. In terms of personal development, creating a new habit may take 21-30 days.
So how do you implement personal kaizen? The first thing that is useful is a Time Map, a chart of the way you’d like to spend your time and a chart of the way you actually do spend your time.
Step 1: Make a list of areas of your life that are important to you. Examples include: family and friends, exercise and education, career and contributions, alone time and spirituality. You can make subcategories for each of these areas if you’d like too.
Step 2: Rank your list in terms of priority. What is truly most important to you? Don’t judge yourself by other people’s expectations, values or standards when you do this.
Step 3: Chart the way you spend your time every day for two weeks. Break your day up into hours and log what you do in that hour. Don’t just write: “work on reports” if you actually answered three phone calls and 10 emails during that time too.
Step 4: After two weeks, look over your log and measure how much time you’ve spent doing each activity. How much time did you spend on things that are important to you? Break it up into percentages.
Step 5: What you’ll also see here is how much time you spend doing random things in ineffective ways. Do you check email every 15 minutes instead of assigning two or three small-time increments of that? Do you forsake time alone doing something you really enjoy for that workout you feel you’re supposed to do? Take note.
Step 6: Look again at your list of important things and the chart of your true time. Keeping your priority list in mind, choose one small thing you can change in each area to improve your life. Pick the easiest change to implement — not the toughest. That’s another kaizen principle: pick the low-hanging fruit first.
Step 7: Craft a plan to implement the changes — what is it that you’re going to do differently or focus on and how.
Step 8: Commit and follow through. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” wrote Tae Te Ching and it is eminently kaizen. Practise creating that new and positive habit for a month. That will make the next change you tackle so much easier.
Step 9: Keep a journal to track your progress. Those small successes can add up in terms of self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation and actual transformation.
Step 10: Revisit and revise your charts and choose the next change.
Good luck!

Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality

As far as Islam is concerned, it must be noted that Arab and Muslim majority societies are seriously lacking in spirituality. There is not a deficit of “religion” but of spiritual life. It can be encountered among Islamists, as well as among secularists and ordinary citizens. Religion refers to the framework, to the structure of ritual, to the rights and obligations of believers and, as such, lies at the heart of social and political debate. In the classical Islamic tradition, framework, reference and practices can — like all religions and spiritual traditions — be best seen in the light of their relation to meaning (here, to the Divine), to a conception of life and death, to the life of the heart and mind. Contemporary Islamic discourse has, however, too often lost its substance, which is that of meaning, of understanding ultimate goals and the state of the heart. Increasingly, it has been reduced to reactivity, preoccupied with the moral protection of the faithful, based on the reiteration of norms, rituals and, above all, prohibitions. But spirituality is not faith without religion; it is the quest for meaning and peace of heart as the essence of religion. Viewed in this light, Muslim majority societies are profoundly bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a spiritual and religious emancipation.

The decline of Islamic civilisation, followed by colonialism, has left its mark, as has the experience of political and cultural resistance. The way in which religion, and the Islamic reference, are understood was gradually adapted to the requirements of resistance: for both traditional Muslim scholars (ulama) and Islamist movements (which often began with mystical aspirations) moral norms, rules pertaining to food, dress and strict observance of ritual have come increasingly to the fore as means of self-assertion, in direct proportion to the danger of cultural colonialism and alienation perceived and experienced in Arab societies. Caught up in political resistance, Islamist movements have gradually focused their attention on questions of a formal nature, setting aside the spiritual core of religious practice. Between the rhetoric of traditional religious authorities and institutions, and that of the Islamists, whether narrowly rigorous in outlook or hypnotized by political liberation, ordinary citizens are offered few answers to their spiritual pursuit of meaning, faith, the heart and peace.

A yawning void has opened up; mystical (Sufi) movements have re-emerged, some of them respectful of norms, some fraudulent, in what is often an approximate answer to popular aspirations. The Sufi movements or circles are diverse, and often provide a kind of exile from worldly affairs, in contrast to ritualistic traditionalism or to Islamist activism. Focus upon yourself, they urge; upon your heart and inner peace; stay far away from pointless social and political controversy. A specific feature of mystical circles is that they bring together — though in physically separate groups — educated elites in quest of meaning as well as ordinary citizens, including the poorest, who feel a need for reassurance that verges on superstition. Their teachings are, more often than not, general and idealistic, far removed from the complexities of reality; politically, they sometimes voice passive or explicit support for ruling regimes, even dictatorships.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Sufi circles yield to the double temptation of the cult of the personality of the shaikh or guide (murshid) and the infantilisation of the initiates (murîd): the latter may be highly educated, hold high rank in the social hierarchy, yet at the same time place their hearts, minds and even their lives in the hands of a guide who, it is claimed, represents the ultimate path to fulfillment. This culture of disempowerment strangely echoes the fashions of the day: a combination of withdrawal from the world and living in a kind of existential confusion between emotional outpouring (the spectacle of effusiveness towards and reverence for Sufi elders can be disturbing, disquieting and dangerous) and a demanding spiritual initiation. Such initiation should be liberating, open the door to autonomy through mastery of the ego and lead to coherence between the private and public life. But what emerge instead are parallel lives: a so-called Sufi spirituality allied to egocentric, greedy, self-interested and occasionally immoral social and political behavior. Arab elites and middle classes find such behavior to their advantage, as do socially fragile sectors of the population.

Between the overbearing ritualism of official religious institutions and the obsessive politicisation of Islamist leaders the thirst for meaning, which finds its expression in cultural and religious references, seeks for ways to express itself. Mysticism sometimes provides the solution. But careful thought should be given to the real-life impact of such phenomena as they relate to the crisis of spirituality and therefore of religion. In every case, the teachings propounded do not encourage the autonomy, well-being and confidence of human beings in their everyday individual and social lives. In their formalism and concentration upon norms, the traditional institutions that represent or teach Islam reproduce a double culture of prohibition and guilt. The religious reference is transformed into a mirror in which the believers are called upon to judge themselves for their own deficiencies: such rhetoric can generate nothing more than unease. The Islamist approach, which seeks to free society from foreign influence, has in the long run brought forth a culture of reaction, differentiation and frequently of judgment: who is a Muslim, what is Islamic legitimacy, etc. It sometimes casts itself as victim; even in the way it asserts itself against the opposition. Social and political activism prevails over spiritual considerations; the struggle for power has sometimes eclipsed the quest for meaning.
By way of response to this void, the majority of mystical movements and circles have called upon their initiates to direct their attention inwards, towards themselves, their hearts, their worship and their inner peace. Around them has arisen a culture of isolation, social and political passivity and loss of responsibility, as though spirituality were somehow necessarily opposed to action. Still, it must be noted that a large number of Sufi circles do speak out on social and political issues, and actually encourage their followers to speak out on social and political matters, and to become actively involved in society. Between the culture of prohibition and guilt and that of reaction and victimisation, between abandonment of responsibility and isolationism, what options remain  for the Arab world to reconcile itself to its cultural, religious and spiritual heritage? What must be done to propound a culture of well-being, autonomy and responsibility?

There is a need to rediscover and reclaim the spirituality that permeates Eastern cultures, and that lies at the heart of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, a consideration that today’s social and political uprisings can ill afford to neglect. For there can be no viable democracy, no pluralism in any society without the well-being of individuals, the citizens and the religious communities.
Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is the author of Islam and the Arab Awakening.