“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” & the Kaizen Mindset


On my way back from vacation, I watched the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” for a second time. I first watched it in 2012 before my first study trip to Japan. You can watch the movie for free if you're an Amazon Prime member, by the way.

The trailer:

The film focuses mainly on Jiro Ono, a now 90-year old sushi chef in Tokyo who has received the rare and coveted Michelin 3-star rating for his restaurant.

As you can read in the transcript of the film

[Jiro] is always looking ahead.

He's never satisfied with his work.

He's always trying to find ways

to make the sushi better, or to improve his skills.Even now, that's what he thinks about all day, every day.

That reminds me of Lean thinking, especially the drive for Kaizen, or continuous improvement.

As Jiro says, there's always room for improvement:


I admire how somebody like Jiro can do the same thing, follow the same routine, every day for decades, trying to perfect his craft.

Jiro says:

Even at my age, after decades of work…I don't think I have achieved perfection.

Later in the film, we also see Fujita, a tuna dealer, who talks about the need for continuous improvement and the self-reflection that's necessary.

Even at my age, I'm discovering new techniques.


But just when you think you know it all, you realize that you're just fooling yourself…


and then you get depressed.


Do you ever feel that way? It reminds me of the “Dunning-Kruger effect” where beginners in a field overestimate their knowledge and ability. I see this a lot with Lean or “Lean Sigma.” As they say, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  • fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  • fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
  • fail to accurately gauge skill in others
  • recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill

Then, as you learn more, you realize how much you don't know. This can lead to the “imposter syndrome.”

“Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.”

Interesting thoughts for the practice of Lean and Kaizen, eh?

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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 – your post is timely as I’m heading back to Japan this weekend for a visit and sushi has been on my mind! I too watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” before moving to Japan two years ago and your post has inspired me to download it and watch in now with the perspective of having lived in Japan for 1.5 years.

    Your post also made me think of Mr. Yoshino’s comments to me that learning lean is like learning to make sushi: http://kbjanderson.com/toyota-leadership-lessons-part-6-coach-like-you-are-making-sushi/

  2. Mark,

    Another great post. It hits home as we work on improving our processes. When we see new levels of performance we realize that, after running a successful business for more than 30 years, we know nothing about manufacturing. All we really know how to do is “make stuff”. It is at once sobering, inspiring, and humbling… Which is really the perfect mindset with which to approach improvement.

    Thanks for the poignant thoughts.



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