Kaizen Hints from Heloise, or, If Kaizen is Common Sense, Why Isn’t It More Common?


I'm a big nerd in that I love reading newspapers basically cover to cover. I'm a nerd in many ways, I guess. You don't have to be a survey nerd to take my short reader survey (and you might win a book!).

I was a pretty unusual child, reading the entire Detroit Free Press every morning before school. I was a news nerd then. I wanted to be a sportswriter, since the father of one of my best friends from elementary school got to travel with the Detroit Tigers as a “beat writer.” I am still a pretty big consumer of newspapers, often in print form (although I read the WSJ on my iPad).

Recently, I was perusing the San Antonio paper (cover to cover) and even glanced at the “Hints from Heloise” column that was traditionally aimed at housewives (that seems like an outdated sexist way of saying it, but that's the history of the column).

This item caught my eye (you can also read it online):


I love how the reader was motivated by their own interest in reducing waste. The reader doesn't need to know or memorize seven or eight types of Lean waste… sometimes we just know it when we see it.

In one's own home, we don't have (or shouldn't have?) a “boss” telling us not to implement an improvement.

I also think it's interesting that she felt compelled to SHARE the improvement with Heloise and her readers. That's an important part of the Kaizen process, as we describe in our book:

  1. Find opportunities for improvement
  2. Discuss them
  3. Implement (test) them
  4. Document them
  5. Share them

See our KaiNexus website about how our technology helps people share improvements across their organization.

Hear Mark read the post (subscribe to the “Lean Blog Audio” podcast):

I sometimes hear people say things like “Lean is common sense.” Well, I don't think that's true, as many Lean principles are counterintuitive (such as the way smaller batches can be more efficient). See my Captain Obvious photos/meme in this post.

Sample below:

I sometimes hear people say things like 'Lean is common sense.' Well, I don't think that's true... Share on X

Small Kaizen improvements, often called “Quick and Easy Kaizens” (thanks to Norman Bodek), often seem like common sense, like the example from Heloise.

But, if these improvements are “common sense,” why is it so uncommon that we have vibrant cultures of continuous improvement, where people are free to speak up, point out problems, and test solutions?

It's easy to say that we value continuous improvement… but, as I've asked before, are we really walking the walk?

If #Lean and #Kaizen are just common sense, why isn't it more common? Share on X

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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:

    I think there is a lot of “common sense” in Lean thinking. The problem (from my perspective) is that the framework to allow employees to use common sense is lacking, which means that employees are simply trapped into accepting what management directs. Granted, there are always going to be instances where the common sense approach may be a little underpowered or doesn’t readily apply; however, if management/leadership fails to allow employees to engage in thoughtful problem solving, my guess is that the employees become passive consumers of management dictates. I believe that there is still considerable reluctance on the part of managers to allow employees to participate in robust problem solving. It may be the unfounded fear of “losing control,” or the boss’s boss is of the mind that management should make every decision and employees should just follow the rules. In those instances, there may be some consternation/frustration as the mid-level manager is caught between engaging the employees and satisfying a directives driven boss. Certainly a challenging situation to be mired in.

  2. Hi Mark – Good post. You and I have discussed the “common sense” label many times and I’m with you. A client recently suggested that Lean is *advanced* common sense. I liked that and have been trying it on for size. It seems to fit! Just sharing…


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