Kaizen

Dear Friends

It looks as if May is going to be a month of ‘getting back to normal’. In church we move through the seasons of Easter and Pentecost to Trinity Sunday and ‘Ordinary Time’. In our community, businesses are slowly reopening and the government is pushing its ‘build back better’ program. I am very much in favour of ‘better’.

Japanese kaizen including translation to English (change good)

A few years ago I was privileged to visit the Jaguar-Land Rover factory just north of Wolverhampton as a guest of the Black Country Urban Industrial Mission. It is very impressive to see a production line at work with all the engineers, mechanics and robots assembling the engine parts. An item that caught my attention was the amount of time dedicated to something called ‘Kaizen’. Developed originally by Toyota in Japan, Kaizen is the attempt to improve in small increments. In essence, it is the belief that spending time on a 1% improvement will never be time wasted. Each team at JLR spends an hour a week (3% of a working week) looking for these 1% improvements. Mathematically, if you improve by 1% a week, by the end of the year you will have improved by 66%. In business terms that amounts to quite a considerable profit on the investment.

At JLR that ‘profit’ wasn’t always simply about money. It was sometimes about being less wasteful of time, energy or resources. Sometimes it was about making a safer or more comfortable workplace. Sometimes it was about being a better team. Making improvements does not always mean consuming more of our planet’s resources, indeed making improvements is likely to mean the opposite.

One danger of the Christian Year is the expectation that, as the seasons pass, we return to our starting point. At the end of this month, we’ll return to ‘Ordinary Time’. ‘Ordinary’ and ‘better’ are not exactly antonyms, but they are quite close to being the opposites of one another. Throughout the pandemic many have said that they didn’t want to go back to ‘normal’. As we approach that point, it is interesting how the tune has change and ‘normal’ is exactly what people are asking for; even whilst acknowledging that ‘normal’ is bound to be a bit different.

I really don’t want to return to a ‘normal’, where ‘normal’ is the poor remaining poor, the homeless remaining homeless and the despondent remaining despondent; but after such a shocking year, we don’t really need any great upheavals. We need to look for a ‘normal’ that is a little bit better each time around. Taking one step at a time in the right direction. Perhaps if ‘normal’ were more like ‘1% better each time’ rather than ‘ordinary’, we would gradually see life improving for everyone.

The predictions are that during this month we’ll see a 1% that means, following the ‘rule of six’, we’ll be able to meet friends indoors, but what 1% improvements can you make for yourself? How can you make yourself 1% happier this month, 1% more confident, 1% more generous, 1% more trusting, 1% more loving? A small investment of time considering these things, will make a huge difference to you, your family, our community and the world; but you begin just 1% at a time. Over time, regular 1% improvements will add up to something truly extraordinary.

A word cloud, in the shape of the world

As we enter ‘Ordinary Time’, let’s make it an ‘Extraordinary Time’ in Jesus’ name.

With every blessing
Andrew

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