Calisthenics, Kaizen and Your Daily Stretch

I was lucky enough to witness a shift start at a local distribution center today. Like most Japanese companies and too few American companies the shift leader instructed all 40 or so workers in about 5 minutes of calisthenics: simple stretching and warm-up exercises before starting work. This small, daily act of preparing your body for the motions you will make as you do work pays off in fewer injuries, higher performance and team spirit. The same can be said for the act mental calisthenics, or kaizen.
Kaizen is continuous improvement by making many small changes, building one upon another. Kaizen can involve new tools and technology, but is different than technology driven innovations in that it relies mostly on wits and creativity of people. It is mental calisthenics. The key idea with calisthenics is that it requires no equipment, and can be done anywhere since you are using the resistance of your own weight and gravity. The point is to do a variety of simple exercises to strengthen your body. As in kaizen, continuity is strength. The word calisthenics comes from the Greek words for “beautiful” and “strength” apparently.
We need to stretch our bodies because the natural state of things is entropy: to become less ordered, and for our bodies this means slowly become decrepit, stiff and harder to move. It is surprising how quickly a not-so-young body loses the ability to do forty push ups after a week or two of not doing daily calisthenics. What if the same were true of our minds? In fact this is the case, and the reason that daily kaizen is so important to keeping our minds nimble. We need to stretch our minds by seeing, listening, or simply imagining something different and interesting each day.
Our minds easily fall into a routine or habitual way of thinking or doing something and not noticing the most obvious things about us. This can result in not seeing things that were initially odd to us, teaching ourselves to ignore those things, or simply seeing them but forming the habit of doing nothing. It can be the habit of believing that change is not possible because of one or two rejections or failures. Kaizen teaches us to keep going back to the drawing board, to keep testing our wits against daily challenges. We need to resist against our own weight of complacency and inertia.
One of my uncles taught me the practice of asking, “What did I do today that was truly hard?” While this has helped me get through days that seemed hard, but were not in fact “truly” hard, on reflection even the practice of asking this question has become less regular. This is another mental muscle that needs calisthenics.
Kaizen is like your daily mental stretch. What is one small thing that dissatisfies you? What is one small, practical way you can change this thing? What can you do about this, today? What weight of bad habits, thought patterns, selfishness, insecurities can you resist against? The small, daily act of preparing your mind for the challenges to think creatively and positively in the face of changing customer and co-worker situations will pay off in better customer service, higher productivity and team spirit.

2 Comments

  1. Gabriela

    May 9, 2008 - 8:27 am

    If we manage to internalize this concept and use it to exercise our minds it’s great. The difficulty is in convincing the many others in the workplace of pursuing it. Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    The question I’d like to ask is this: Is it a good idea to offer a monetary compensation for all the lean suggestions submitted and implemented or not? Some people see it as part of everyone’s job, as part of the yearly review, some say that when you stop paying, people stop coming up with ideas. What works the best in your experience?

  2. Kenneth

    May 11, 2008 - 3:00 am

    Hi Gabriela,
    I have been in similar situation and this is my thought.
    Refering to the takt time competition, most of the participants entry is to share their experiences and thoughts on the problem. The prize book only serve as an encouragement for the participantion.
    Similiarly, what is the purpose of the rewards on the lean suggestion, encouragement for the goodwill of the organisation or otherwise.
    The reward element may serve different purpose in the 2 situation.