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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Crisis-driven versus Kaizen-driven Thinking

The global marketplace has created a new game whereby forcing companies and their leaders to change the way they think and operate. The object of this game is to consistently provide even-higher quality products and services at lower costs relative to the quality produced. This is contrary to our societal belief that higher quality must cost more.

Three fundamental shifts in an organization’s mindset make it possible to understand how to achieve high quality and low cost in every action taken. First, there is a shift from a purely externalized view of the world to one that combines the internal with external. Organizations not only focus on strategic external activities but understand the importance of internal capability. Second, there is a change in focus from content, or results - a focus that only sees outcomes - to one that appreciates the process leading to them, as well as the results. Finally, a shift from acting in response to external crises or stimuli, to being internally driven by the freely chosen will to improve and create something better. I am going to focus on the later for the remainder of this discussion.

Tom Lane and Alan Green wrote about this change in thinking in their book “The Way of Quality, Dialogues on Kaizen Thinking” in1994. They talk in detail about the shift from what they call “crisis-driven” thinking in which people react and respond to problems once they occur to what they call “kaizen thinking” where people prevent problems before they occur. The table below contrasts the way of thinking of these two approaches.




Psychological Need

To be right and best.

To be improving continually.

Method of Perceiving

Looking at results with desire to control outcomes.

Looking at process to increase comprehension and performance.

Object of Measures

Fix blame, determine what / who is wrong.

Get data on current performance to help improve and adjust.

Source of Mental Energy

Threats / fear, fire-fighting excitement.

Problem elimination, challenge to improve.

Psychological Reward

Short-term fixes, immediate feedback

Long-term system upgrade, indirect feedback.

Attitude toward Change

Avoid major system change because it implies wrongness.

Expectation of constant small and large changes.

Guiding Principle re: Change

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It can always be done better.

Learning Approach

Quick analytical skill and remedial action.

Curious about large system: act to create quality, prevent recurrence.

While there may be a strong desire to shift from crisis-driven to kaizen-driven thinking, the transition must be made carefully. The crisis-driven system requires ongoing attention, even while it is being phased out, because it lies at the heart of all our current systemic structures and till maintains order.

Moving to kaizen thinking may be difficult but not impossible. It requires us to change our action behind thinking. Below is a table of key drivers of action behind crisis and kaizen thinking.

Crisis Thinking

Kaizen Thinking

After the fact

Before the fact









Short-term fix

Long-term change

Expedite out-of-control operation

Upgrade in-control operation

Immediate/direct reward

Long term/indirect reward

Immediate problem fix

System/operation improvement

Minimum diagnosis

Continuous thorough diagnosis

Work/problems come to you

You go to the system

Internal –hero oriented

Customer oriented

Narrowing of thinking scope

Raising/widening of scope

Time to redo

Time to do it correctly

Progress is tangible only

Progress often intangible

Working harder gets it done

Working smarter gets it done

Variance to fixed standard

Standard continually upgraded

Fragmented jobs

Work as unified flow

Disconnected individual effort

Connected joint effort

Things always break

Things are prevented from breaking down

Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken

It can always be improved

Give me simple answers now

Let’s see how this works

Don’t ask questions –do it

Questions help us understand

Don’t confuse me with data

What are the data?

Job security comes from their depending on my ability to fix

Job security comes from increasing our capability

Learning takes too long

Learning is continuous

Learning means you are inadequate

Learning is necessary to deal with change

Getting by is good enough

Fixing it permanently is the only solution

Quality is passing inspection

Quality is no variances

Quality is not as important as quantity/low cost

Quality is everything we do and think

Don’t challenge the system

Everything can be improved

Success is individual

Success is of the whole

Work manages me

I manage my work

Customer reactions drive improvement

Customer input blends with technology and capability input to create improvement

I get paid to react quickly

I get paid to think, then do

Who is to blame is important

What went wrong is important

Targets are to be hit

Trends of improvement are tracked

Don’t worry about the big issues

Work on seeing how large issues affect the small ones and vice-versa

Mistakes mean failure

Mistakes show where we need to improve

External simulation from crises (especially bosses)

Internal simulation from exploring, discovering, improving, understanding

Physical energy dominates

Mental energy dominates

Bored with discipline, routine, energy goes into complaining

Dislike disorder, maintain orderliness; cleanliness, standards, safety; self-managing

Thinking is what shapes our actions. Not only what we think but how we think. World-class products and services result from breakthrough thinking. If companies are going to deliver higher quality and lower cost in the increasingly competitive global economy, they must change the way they think about work, organization, and themselves.

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