As we start 2016, I would like to open our imaginations a bit and examine work and life from a couple of Japanese concepts that we have all heard about but few truly understand. The first we are going to look at is “Ikigai” or “the why you get up every day” and the second is “Kaizen” or “the philosophy of continuous improvement in work and personal lives”.
Many authors discuss these topics independently but I really feel they need to be combined to realize the real power that is present in their use and empowerment. Here we are going to examine an integrated process that can help you become more intentional and empowering in 2016.
Historical Perspective. Ikagai has its origin and significance in Japan, particularly in the vicinity of Okinawa, an island south of Tokyo. Here, many of the oldest people in the world reside. They live an average of seven years longer than the average age here in the West. And not only they older, they are also generally healthier. Many life threatening illnesses like cancer show rates of significant reduction from the western countries, up to 80 percent less. Cardiovascular diseases are almost completely absent. Part of this can be attributed to a healthy life style, complete with a very healthy diet.
Many in this region account for their good life with a number of factors. First, they predominantly follow a vegetarian diet (1-2 times per week meat or fish), lots of soy and tofu. Secondly, they have reasonable portions which helps to contribute to this healthy diet. We in the US are overly concerned with portions that are too large and over powered with unbalanced nutrition. We subscribe to the attitude that everyone needs to clean our plate.
Generally, the Okinawan practice “harhachi bu” which literally means “Eat until you’re 80% full”.
This is a discipline we in the west really could well afford to adopt and empower others to practice. While this is primarily from a Confucian background, many other faiths offer similar ideas. Science tells us that the stomach requires fifteen to twenty minutes to process any chewed food, and to deliver the signal that it has had enough so this allows us some buffer space.
If we would do this simple process, instead of continuing to eat until we are full, we would lose an average of 20 pounds per year! We could also reduce the amount of heartburn and heartburn medications we ingest on a daily basis. Uncommon common sense?
Now Let’s Discuss Ikigai
Ikigai literally means “the reason you get up every day.” In English, we call it purpose, however, many languages do not have a single word for this particular focus or point of view so it will be communicated via a phrase or set of words.
10 years ago, we argued that we must keep our work and private lives separate. Some went so far as to visualize an actual door we shut when we left the house in the morning. Likewise, we used to try and shut the work door when we left the plant or the office but today with the 24/7 connection capabilities we have at our disposal, this concept is less than ideal.
Ikigai for the Japanese involves cultural integration of daily life. According to them, everyone has a Ikigai, a reason to be, and it imperative that you to start the search for yours and to persevere. Ikigai is unfortunately one of those things that very few people have truly focused on and therefore few actually have it present in their daily lives. It means adjusting your attitude the minute your feet touch the floor when you wake up in the morning and yes, you do control this attitude.
The awareness of Ikigai has increased over the past decade, partly due to the growth of both the collective and individual consciousness yet there is still an enormous growth curve we can tap into as we grow. Ikigai is demonstrated in those who are engaged in an endless passion for something and immerse themselves in it.
The core of Ikigai is: It’s that huge drive that ensures that people continue despite setbacks and difficulties; simply because they feel that what they do is their calling. The diagram above indicates the spheres of our lives that interlock and show how the integration leads to Ikigai. It helps one focus.
Ikigai, the reason to get up again every day full of motivation out of bed and to fulfill your calling is to me one of the most powerful tools that I have found to have an enjoyable, fulfilled and successful life.
The ability to inspire others and show that boundaries can be broken – that’s my Ikigai.
But, we have to realize that Ikigai is really a philosophy that requires influence from many other areas of our lives and one of the strongest is “Kaizen”, the idea of continuous improvement.
The Kaizen mentality
The Japanese are not only known for their healthy eating habits. They are also known for an enormous capacity to innovate. In many spheres ranging from technology to science, they have shown and continue to demonstrate they are some of the strongest leaders of the world, and that is not without reason.
Just after the Second World War, the country was in total ruins. Americans who were stationed there in the army could not even make a phone call, simply because of the lack of infrastructure. To help the Japanese improve this situation the Army starting bringing American experts in to help revamp management styles.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a professor, author, and consultant (later known for the quality circle of Deming), helped introduce the Japanese entrepreneurs to something which helped them in the succeeding decades after the war and allow them to become one of the leading players in the global market: Kaizen.
It was actually introduced in an ESS training film that introduced the three TWI “J” programs (Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations) – the film was titled “Improvement in 4 Steps” (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai). Thus “Kaizen” was introduced to Japan.
For the pioneering, introduction, and implementation of Kaizen in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded the 2nd Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming in 1960.
Kaizen literally means, “change for Better” but in business it usually infers continuous learning and continuous growth. It is a philosophy, that in most segments, is focusing on the development of quality tools, but also restoring value into one’s personal life.
The idea behind Kaizen for me is that I am continually looking for improvements in my life, career and relationships. We go to elementary school to learn to count and write, then we expand our knowledge in areas like sciences and languages in High School. By college we are looking to study for a career or the profession we want to practice but that does not end our learning.
For me, this is where the curiosity catalyst and personal progress and improvement really begins – whether it comes to my health, my finances, my work, relationships with others or even my contribution to the world.
Living according to Ikigai and Kaizen are fundamental pillars in personal development and they create that paths that leads to great success! It is a matter of time, effort and integrity rather than just answering the questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Nor is there any mystic silver bullet that will help you accomplish your journey.
So, as we go into 2016, are you willing to look at how you and your people can adopt the ideas behind Ikigai and Kaizen to grow personally and professionally. If you would like help in this area, check out my website at Transformative Leadership Group or call me at 630-454-4821.
By the way what’s your Ikigai?