A few months ago, I attended a monthly dinner held by a group of New Yorkers who love to get together and talk about myth and enduring truths at an Italian restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan. At the end of the evening, a man pressed a book in my hand called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. It looked like the kind of business oriented self-help books I ran screaming from when I was a book reviewer for PW. Indeed it is, but this one has a fascinating twist. After France fell to Nazi Germany in 1940, the U.S. government created training programs called Training Within Industries (TWI) for corporations who needed to gear up for the war. One of these programs was the brainchild of a statistician and quality control man named Dr. W. Edwards Deming (could there be a less Zen-sounding background?). Deming advised a fluid attitude of “continuous improvement.” Instead of pressing for radical and costly innovations, he urged a war-time mentality, an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-grab-a-musket kind of attitude. Suggestion boxes were placed on factory floors so that line workers could relate their observations and suggest small changes that could speed up production. As paltry and timid as such an approach sounded, it worked really, really well. After the war, General McArthur brought the Management Training Program (MTP) to a shattered Japan. It was built on Deming’s tenants about focusing on tiny changes that flowed from observations made in the present moment. This approach helped revolutionize Japanese business. The Japanese called it the properly Zen-y sounding “Kaizen.”
Does it work? When I was practicing yoga yesterday, I happened to observe that if I energized certain muscles more, my back relaxed. No big deal, barely worth mentioning. Except that I noticed that when I made that tiny change, something subtle shifted in me. I had the impression of coming out of the fog of thought and opening myself to the play of forces in the real world. I had the feeling that if being here–liberated from separation from reality–is where the real magic happens.
“To God there is nothing small,” said Mother Theresa.
Do you have an example of a small observation that led to a small change that ultimately led to a big difference in your life?