An Interesting Take on the Use of Japanese Terms in Lean
Today, I’m linking to a post from a new blog written by the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business (“Think Op-Ex“). The post “What’s in a name?” features thoughts from James Hereford, formerly of Group Health (part of the group being interviewed in my old podcast).
From the post:
It’s Hereford’s preference to use the original terms. His succinct defense:
“When you go to a Japanese restaurant, do you order sushi or do you say something like, ‘Please get me raw fish rolled in a leaf and rice?'”
My co-author Joe Swartz and I talked a lot about the use of the word kaizen (Japanese for continuous improvement) as we were planning for and writing our upcoming book Healthcare Kaizen. We discussed how much to focus on the word kaizen in the book and whether it should be part of the main title, the subtitle of the book, or neither.
Clearly, we decided not to run and hide from the word. Some of that comes back to Hereford’s thoughts that the word is what it is. Kaizen is used so frequently in the Lean approach… it’s not quite everyday English, but the word is out there. Kaizen signifies a different approach to improvement. There are styles of improvement and embedded mindsets that are specific to Kaizen. For example, Kaizen is not about senior leaders or middle managers making all of the decisions and it’s not the usual suggestion box approach. We also wanted to honor the previous work of Masaaki Imai (who wrote our book’s foreword) and Norman Bodek (who wrote an introduction), as they both have done a lot to spread the word Kaizen in the Western world.
We realize we are introducing the word to a new audience and that might be a bit of an uphill battle. But I’ve found that the hospitals that completely balk at Japanese words are very much in the minority. The English language has always absorbed words from different languages and our language is stronger for it.
As Hereford might say, do you call this approach ‘kaizen’ or do you call it ‘a staff-driven approach to continuous improvement that focuses on a large number of small, low-risk, low-cost improvements that make your work easier and improve patient care, done in collaboration with supportive, coaching leaders”?