Sell Complacency, Buy Kaizen

On June 12, 2006 Minyanville News & Views commentary money manager Ryan Krueger gave the advice “sell complacency, buy kaizen”. He sees the U.S. as complacent, giving evidence for the eroding dominance as the number one economy, and labels the emerging markets “kaizen”, eager to improve.
Although oddly Krueger isn’t demanding Lean government, he makes some very good points regarding government waste:
– According to an AP story which quoted the IRS, the tax return they just received from General Electric (GE) was 24,000 pages long.
– The Standard Federal Tax Reporter, a reference book for accountants and tax preparers to summarize the code and make it simpler to use is over 60,000 pages.
– The FY 2006 budget requested that Congress allocate $41.4 billion for regulatory activities, a 4.8% increase. The regulators budget is growing at a faster rate than other nondiscretionary spending (up an amazing 46%, after inflation, since 2000). Staffing is at an all-time high of nearly a quarter million people.
– The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in this choppy economy.

He goes on to cite other examples of how the U.S. as the number one economy in the world is in many ways complacent (U.S. workers want “to retire early”) while the emerging market countries are hungry (their workers want “to work”). Is this a fair characterization?
As a generalization, money managers aren’t known for making decisions and stock recommendations based on being close to the gemba, where people may be equally concerned with working as well as retiring early. Yet I think “sell complacency, buy kaizen” is very good advice. In fact, you can extend this to “fire complacency, hire kaizen” or “demote complacency, promote kaizen” or “unlearn complacency, teach kaizen”.
All kaizen activity, whether it is at a process level, at the level of product or service innovation or at an entrepreneurial level should begin with a denial of complacency, the thinking that you are ok. Before kaizen, say “now things are the worst ever” and after kaizen celebrate briefly and repeat “now things are the worst ever“. Somebody somewhere in the world is saying those words and working hard to catch up with number one.