The Atomic Rules of Kaizen

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Systems that are internally consistent and externally pragmatic stem from just a few rules.  Systems with exceedingly many rules typically fail or will not endure. This is true for Kaizen.

For example,

  • Most mathematical truths stem from just a few axioms
  • Music stems from just a handful of finite notes
  • Most Martial Arts stem from a few principles of angle, attack, force, etc.

This same approach is true for Kaizen.  In Kaizen, it is important to have fidelity to just a few atomic rules, from which a range of behavior will originate.  Below are the rules that I subscribe to:

  1. Spend no Money
  2. Add no People
  3. Add no Space
  4. Add no Steps (Touches)

These four atomic rules collectively form constraints, leading to some creative tension.  For example,

  • We will be compelled to use creativity
  • We will be compelled toward elegance
  • We will be compelled to respect people
  • We will be compelled to question the status quo
  • We will be compelled to think “we can, if…” instead of “we can’t because…”
  • We will be compelled to focus on processes, instead of finger-pointing at others
  • We will be compelled to make many small improvements, instead of big, water-shed changes that take a lot of time and resources
  • We will be compelled to seek the collective wisdom of many people, instead of a few, select heroes

In a tough economic climate in which we all find ourselves, a Kaizen worldview is needed more now than ever.


  1. Jason says

    Probably easier said than done, but that’s not a deterrent. I really like the elegance of the approach. This is similar to one of the strategies in The Fifth Discipline for transforming an organization (“Start Where You Are with Whoever is There”).

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