A Kaizen Quote from Taiichi Ohno


As I'm working hard this week to finish, with my co-author Joe Swartz, the manuscript for our upcoming book “Healthcare Kaizen,” I'm not taking much time to blog.

But here is the longer version of a quote we are sharing in the book, from Taiichi Ohno, one of the creators of the Toyota Production system. He is quoted in the book The Birth of Lean.

“If you are going to do kaizen continuously…you've got to assume that things are a mess. Too many people just assume that things are all right the way they are.   Aren't you guys convinced that the way you're doing things is the right way? That's no way to get anything done. Kaizen is about changing the way things are.   If you assume that things are all right the way they are, you can't do kaizen. So change something!”

Is your organization willing to admit when things are a mess? Is there a burning desire to change things? How does Kaizen support your mission, purpose, and values?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark:
    Here’s an echoing quote from Isao Kato, from his contribution to Art Smalley’s great article in Superfactory TPS versus Lean: Additional Perspectives:

    “Having proper awareness of problems and an extremely low tolerance for the current condition is a proper attitude and starting point for any activities in TPS or Lean.”

    In a much milder tone, I think he’s saying just about exactly the same thing that Ohno did in the quote you cite above. Difference in tone isn’t surprising, coming from Toyota’s Manager of Training and Development (vs. Chief Engineer). But, to your question, it is also more clear as a statement of values than Ohno’s words. It’s something that we can try to live out in our attitudes and behaviors, certainly something I try to teach (using Kato’s words) throughout our organization. Kaizen is a meaningful way to express these values in action.

  2. So I’m torn. The Kato quote is gentler, but things in healthcare often are “a mess.” It’s not like we are leading the book with that quote, so I might just leave it in there…. something to sleep on.

    Thanks for sharing the quote, Andrew. We do cite Kato/Smalley in the book.


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