Apparently, there is some dispute as to how the Japanese word kaizen translates to the English. I only recently became aware of the word while watching a cooking series, The Great British Baking Show. In an episode of season 2 the psychologist/contestant named Kimberley Wilson was briefly interviewed after a less-than-perfect bake when she said (and I paraphrase here) “confidence with kaizen…feeling good about your efforts while maintaining constant improvement”. And I looked up the word right away.
I was gobsmacked by the universal wholesome goodness of this concept as Kimberley assembled it. Leave it to a psychologist, right? The idea of having confidence while actively seeking improvement…what a thought!
Those of us in Occidental culture love to romanticize about all things Oriental. I guess in this case, I’m no exception. Here’s my elaboration about how the concept, as assembled by my new hero Kimberley, applies to my work as a designer/maker.
It takes a certain level of confidence to enter a season-long baking competition. You will be judged. And you may fail miserably. (As a finalist, Kimberley didn’t fail at all!) But you will likely be stretching your ability and within that stretching resides the potential for improvement, or kaizen, however you may say or define it.
The same applies to custom jewelry. One must be self-assured enough to take on the expectations of another person. And you will be judged on your efforts. One of the things I enjoy about custom work is the challenge to stretch myself beyond where I am at any given point in my career, confident in my ability to adapt and learn new things.
Improvement ~ Kaizen
Improvement can be incremental or monumental, both are important. In my jewelry design practice, (and yes, I call it a practice because I’m as professional as any doctor) improvement seems mostly to come incrementally. I think it is through the repetition of similar tasks, day by day and week by week with small improvements, until comes a day where I realize that I’ve made monumental improvements since last time I noticed. I remember having many, many epiphanies throughout my career, thinking to myself, “now, this is a mature design”. Or, “wow, that was really innovative!”
I can honestly say that I never let a project out of my shop until I am not just satisfied with it, but proud, and yet I seek continual improvement in just about everything I do, from cooking to working with clients to working with precious metals.
Kaizen, better and better!
La méthode Coué
I have applied the affirmation “Every day in every way I get better and better” to a meditation ring that works much like a prayer wheel. The part of the band that contains the saying, rotates around the base.
This saying was made popular by Émile Coué, a mid 19th century psychologist and pharmacist that is known to have discovered what later became called the placebo effect, thought by many to be the most effective medicine! Coué’s ideas of affirmation have evolved and spread into many fields including sports and all forms of self-improvement. They have been utilized and advocated by many successful people.
Better Today than Yesterday?
Is today’s project better than yesterdays? I think in many ways not, because for every project I do the best job I can. And I think clients recognize and appreciate that quality in how I manage myself. But inevitably, yes, today’s project is better than yesterdays, and it should be…it better be! If not, my process would become stale and I would likely lose interest. My clients would fall way like the leaves from trees in fall. Fortunately, my interest and ability, like my client base, has only grown over time. I am blessed!