Writing

In Pursuit of Kaizen

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

Kaizen is a Japanese word that generally means change for the better, or improvement. Interestingly, the concept was first imported to Japan from America during the post war occupation. A product of the Great Depression and Second World War, it was an explicitly business related concept that focused on doing more with less.

The Japanese implemented this with great success, transforming it from a simple business concept to a philosophical practice. Today, kaizen often refers to a philosophy of continuous, small improvements, which if implemented successfully can produce incredible results in any aspect of life and help an individual achieve goals they otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve.

The reason kaizen is successful is because it is purposeful and deliberate and allows us to focus on small incremental changes over time rather than large immediate ones. In today’s age of on-demand and immediate everything it’s often easy to get caught up in the belief that we can create radical change overnight. The reality is that change takes time and effort, real change doesn’t happen overnight, and when it seems like it does it’s usually because we ignored the build-up that led to that change.

It’s All About the Journey:

Perfection, sadly, is impossible. However, the goal of kaizen and the reason for it’s success is because it is a commitment to a continuous journey in pursuit, not of perfection, but of better. Kaizen allows us to break down large, seemingly impossible objectives into manageable, bite sized portions, and to achieve those objectives by a process of continuous improvement.

Want to loose weight and be healthier? Kaizen. Want to be more successful? Kaizen. Want to be happier and more fulfilled? Kaizen. Want to do better at work or make more money? Kaizen.

Kaizen works because instead of focusing on a destination we focus on the journey, this allows us to live in the present rather than an imagined future. Striving for relentless continuous improvement becomes the object rather than the means, allowing us to achieve fulfillment in the doing rather than by reaching a particular destination.

Creating the Process:

While implementing kaizen in theory is simple, it still requires work. The process of kaizen can be broken down into three general areas: 1. Process; 2. Measurement; 3. Innovation.

It sounds a little redundant to say, the process of improving the process, but that’s essentially what kaizen is. It’s not a methodology, there’s no quick and easy solution. To practice kaizen one must first start with an existing process or routine.

The easiest example is an exercise routine. Everyone wants to loose weight, or be in better shape and many of us go to great lengths to achieve this goal, with little success. Even if we have an exercise routine that we follow it eventually gets stale and boring or simply stops creating the results we want.

In order to get better at something we must be able to measure our progress with quantifiable data. This means we have to record the results of our process, for example, today I can benchpress fifty pounds, tomorrow I work on bench-pressing fifty two pounds. By recording and measuring results we can see if our process is working. This helps us to keep on track when working towards longterm objectives, where incremental change or improvement is often hard to see.

Finally, innovation. Innovation for it’s own sake may be a good or a bad thing depending on the results. But because we are looking to get better at getting better what we want to start is establishing better ways of doing what it is that we are already doing. So we must innovate our techniques and processes by doing things differently.

Going Against the Herd:

To create truly radical change we must engage in some counter intuitive thinking, because if we we only ever do what we’ve always done, we will only ever get the same results. This means that we often have to do things differently.

One of the major fundamental components to successful implementation of kaizen is to encourage mistakes. Too often our fear of doing the wrong thing or making a mistake holds us back, so we continue to act in the same old manner to avoid the mental anguish that we’ve trained ourselves to feel when things go wrong. This doesn’t mean that we want to reward ourselves for being unsuccessful, but that we want to encourage innovation and risk taking. We want to do things differently, and if that doesn’t work out, that’s okay, because we are on a journey of continuous improvement.

A second fundamental component is rewarding ourselves for identifying problems and then fixing them. Very often we find ourselves trapped in repetitive cyclical patterns. We don’t see the type of results we want fast enough, so we return to the very bad habits that caused us to be in the place we are unhappy with. This happens all the time with people trying to diet, but can happen in business or romance or any area of life. Even when we are capable of identifying these problematic behaviors or mindsets, identification alone is often not enough to create the necessary change. To help us achieve change we must reward ourselves not only for identifying the problem, but also for creating and implementing solutions, or for engaging in the practice of continuous improvement.

Finally, a third fundamental component is to reduce waste, or do more with less. Kaizen isn’t just about improvement, but efficiency. If it takes you an hour to do everything in the gym, but you could get the same results in only forty five minutes or thirty that’s a lot of time and energy that is being wasted. Doing more with less is the fundamental starting point of kaizen and one of the driving forces of the philosophy.

Creating long lasting sustainable change in life is possible, but it requires a desire not just to change, but to engage in small, continuous improvement and to find satisfaction in the process as a means in of itself rather than as a means to a particular end.

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Final 2014 Na No Wri Mo

Today is the first of November, and along with indicating my rent is due it the marks the end of Na No Wii Mo. Congrats to all who succeeded and all those who tried but did not do.

I got about 31,000 words in. Not as far as I would have liked, but further than I expected. At least now I have a bones that I can go back to and work on to flesh the novel out and fix some of the problems.

Next year will be better for sure.

Na No Wri Mo #4

Well, it’s the fourth week of National Novel Writing Month. I hope everyone else who has been participating has had better luck than I.

Currently my novel is at 28,002 words. While I’ve averaged over a thousand words a day, I’ve failed to actually stick to my desired one thousand words a day minimum and probably won’t hit my original hoped for length.

Still, I think by the end of the month I will have about 35,000 words of a rough draft. This is a pretty good start for a rough draft, especially considering I’m going to have to go back through and add an excessive amount of world building and explanation for things I came up with mid draft.

While I prefer a much slower pace for novel writing, I still think this has been a good learning process and the eventual result, with some work, might be passable.

Na No Wri Mo #3

It’s the third week of National Novel Writing Month, I’m 21,287 words in and I have hit a wall. Or to be more accurate, Sunday Football and other work got in the way over the weekend and now I’m struggling to find the motivation to return to my daily word count. To make matters worse I’m at the dreaded mid first draft hump.

It’s my experience that most novels that never get finished usually fall apart around 20,000-30,000 words. I have several aborted attempts at novels of about this size and I’ve heard countless tales from other writers echoing my own experience. I wonder, what is it about this number of words that cause us to fall off?

I think it’s because 20,000-30,000 words is a sufficient number of words to be into the story, but not enough for the story to come to a conclusion. We get lost, and unable to see the forest for the trees get frustrated and give up. 20,000 words is sufficient length to tell a story, but not enough for the story to be a novel.

By 20,000 words we are far enough in that we forget the story we intended to tell. The story has changed so much it no longer matches the outline, and there was never enough detail in the outline to begin with, so while the end may have already been thought up, getting there is still daunting. It’s at this point that starting a new story sounds better than finishing the one that’s currently causing so many headaches.

However, stopping means the novel will probably never get finished.  The only way forward is to keep writing.

Odyssey of the Heliotrope

Getting a full length novel published is a long and time consuming process. So for those of you who just can’t wait I’m going to be making some shorter pieces available through e-publication. The first of these is Odyssey of the Heliotrope, a story about an ill-fated  interstellar trip to colonize a foreign planet and what happens when things don’t go the way they are expected to.

It can be found on Amazon.com for the very low cost of .99 cents.

http://www.amazon.com/Odyssey-Heliotrope-Collin-Vincent-ebook/dp/B00PG8QNR0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415733690&sr=8-1&keywords=Odyssey+of+the+Heliotrope

 

Na No Wri Mo Update #2

Today is the tenth day of November, which means it is one third of the way through National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). As of today, without having added today’s word count, (Which I’m procrastinating by writing this post) I have roughly 14,000 words.  By the end of today I will have at least 15,000 words.

If I can keep this rate up I’ll finish with 45,000 words or so. A good start, not quite as many words as I originally hoped, but it’s easier to add material than subtract it.

I still have no clue where the story is going. (That’s a lie. I wrote an outline that I’m generally sticking to) I don’t have a title or really know what the story is about. (This is true) But despite this I have been diligently adding new words, and forcing myself to not get bogged down with rewriting.

This process is so much different from the one I used for my last book, Boom Town. With that book I spent at least six months plodding through a 60,000 word rough draft, only to throw out 40,000 words rewrite it, show it and re-write it ad nauseum. With this process I’m finding myself chained to a word count, much higher than Hemingway’s, but also less constrained by trying to make story elements fit perfectly. The frenetic drive for a higher daily word count means I will inevitably be forced to re-write 2/3 of what I write, but that would probably be the case anyway. At least with NaNoWriMo I know by the end of the month I will have a complete story. After that I can spend the next five months trying to make it a good one and still not spend as much time as I spent on the last novel.

Na No Wri Mo

It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month or (Na No Wri Mo). Na No Wri Mo is exactly what it seems, it’s an attempt by authors to write a book in a month.  If you want more details, http://nanowrimo.org.

Now, in the past I’ve avoided Na No Wri Mo, mainly because writing is rewriting, and trying to speed through a piece is a recipe for disaster.  This year is different because I find myself in-between pieces and want a way to kick start a new project.  So while I’m not going to be jumping on board completely I will be attempting to write a complete draft of a novel by November 30.

I began this in ernest on November 1st, with a project I had been brain storming, but had not yet begun to write. I figure that I need at least a minimum goal of 1,000 words a day, with a overall desired average of about 16,250 words a week or about 60-65,000 words total. Today I have 6,686 words, but I haven’t written anything today, so in four days I’ve almost hit half.