Book Review: One Small Step Can Change Your Life – The Kaizen Way

This is an excellent book for anyone willing to try a new approach to making an improvement in your life. It is a 180 page book with small pages, an easy read for a weekend or an airplane ride. The combination of ideas based in science, connections to Dr. Deming and Toyota’s idea of kaizen and real life examples makes this book quite readable.
As the title of this book would suggest, it is a self-help book. Written by a behavioral health instructor Robert Maurer, Ph. D., this book emphasizes the ‘many very small changes’ approach to kaizen. The book is full of both clinical examples of helping people with weight loss, stopping smoking, and other hard to change habits.
The basic idea is rather than “eat zero carbs” you start with something as small as “eat one less noodle per day”. The author backs us these examples with science, explaining that our three-part brain is responsible for the difficulty we have in changing habits.
The mid-brain (amygdala) is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, allowing us to focus on survival rather than rational thought (in the cortex). The Kaizen Way shows how by asking small questions (what can I do for 60 seconds each day to get exercise?) your cortex is stimulated towards creative, actionable steps rather than fear created by facing big problems (how will I find time for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day?).
The brain likes questions and problem solving, so instead of “taking the leap” and “facing your fears” this book recommends asking small questions about how you see your situation. In addition to asking questions, the technique of mind sculpture (image training in sports) is introduced to train the mind. This book is essentially about getting from ground zero to step 1, or from complete inertia (zero momentum) to getting the ball rolling when making a change in your life.
The book has similarities to Norman Bodek’s “The Idea Generator” and the Quick & Easy Kaizen approach to gaining employee suggestions. Many very small ideas keep people thinking. People get satisfaction from accomplishing things in their job (or life), even if they are small. The author also makes reference to Dr. Deming’s idea of “intrinsic motivation”, or the idea that kaizen ideas and suggestions are better rewarded with recognition or items of small value rather than large amounts of cash.
Even for those of us used to facilitating breakthrough changes and even transformations (creating flow, cross-functional cooperation within an enterprise) there is a lesson to be learned in the ideas in this book, particularly in how to mentor and bring along valued senior managers or long-term employees who find changing to the new way very difficult.
The book talks primarily how individuals can use the kaizen way. As a behavior modification tool, it may be most valuable when used by an individual. It is also a long-term approach to kaizen rather than fast, focused, team-based improvement. For the consultants, trainers, Lean Champions, coaches and change agents among us, the ideas in this book and how to incorporate them into our efforts to make things better merit deep consideration.