Chain of Learning: 18 | Discover the Real Meaning of Kaizen

What do you think of when you hear the word “kaizen”? 

An event? A process that you are working on improving? Something else? 

The Japanese word “kaizen” is usually translated to mean “continuous improvement.” But there is a deeper meaning. It’s actually the lynchpin to creating a real culture of continuous improvement. 

In this episode, I unpack the essence of kaizen, not only as a method for process improvement but also as a personal and organizational mindset for pursuing excellence.

Inspired by my recent keynote at the Shingo Institute conference and insights from studying Japanese and leading my Japan Study Trips, I explore how “kaizen” goes deeper than mere process improvement. It’s about cultivating an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute to change.

You’ll also hear the connection between Devo’s song “Whip It” and the word “kaizen” – and how you can both “whip it bad” and “whip it good” when it comes to continuous improvement.


  • How kaizen represents the discipline to continuously pursue positive change within yourself and in your organization
  • Key strategies for identifying and correcting misalignments between your intentions and actions so that you can create a culture where continuous improvement is practiced by everyone
  • How you can shift from being the primary problem-solver to an enabler who cultivates the skills necessary for overcoming challenges
  • Effective ways to embed the principles of kaizen into personal leadership habits, enhancing your impact as a leader or coach and setting an example for others to follow
  • Insights into how you can use a scientific problem-solving method for personal improvement as well as problem-solving 

Tune into this episode to discover how – “when a problem comes along”  – you and your team can all “whip it” to solve problems at all levels and create an enduring culture of improvement. And I bet you’ll be singing this song for weeks!




  • [00:00] Understanding the true meaning of Kaizen
  • [03:44] Psychological safety and leaders’ responses to mistakes are key for an operational excellence culture
  • [08:54] The real meaning of Kaizen is about self-discipline, continuous improvement, and making change for the greater good
  • [11:21] Creating an organization filled with problem solvers with Larry Culp
  • [17:46] How intention is about aligning behavior with impact and purpose
  • [19:33] How to use Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDCA) or Study-Adjust-Plan-Do (SAPD) cycles for personal improvement