Kaizen, Deming & Jeff Bezos

There are a few really interesting Jeff Bezos related articles that all stem from –

  1. Jeff Bezos spending a week working at an Amazon distribution Center in Lexington, Kentucky

    “Thanks so much for your interest in speaking with our CEO Jeff Bezos,” said spokeswoman Patty Smith. “Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to arrange any interviews or photos this week while he is in Lexington.

    “He is there to work,” Smith said, “and, unfortunately, we are just not scheduling any interviews while he is in town.”

    Local Amazon employees say Bezos is working in the warehouse with the company’s hourly employees to see what they do and hear their comments about their work

  2. Mr. Bezos’ focus on Kaizen, Six Sigma and related stuff.  Here’s a snippet from a Harvard Business Review interview (from the Shmula Blog) –

    I mean I literally learned a bunch of techniques, like Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and other incredibly useful approaches …  that execution focus is a big factor … for instance, we look at the number of customer contacts per unit sold. Our customers don’t contact us unless something’s wrong, so we want that number to move down—and it has gone down every year for 12 years. That’s big-time process management.

If you’re interested in finding out more, here are 2 good posts –

  1.  Jeff Bezos at the Gemba (from the Lean Blog).
  2. Jeff Bezos and Root Cause Analysis (another Mr. Bezos at a Distribution Center story).  

Here’s something more on Deming, Kaizen, and the auto industry –

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy (stemming from the work of an American) that focuses on continuous improvement in every aspect of life (or in the case of a company, the company’s processes).

What Kaizen Means
What Kaizen Means

It works really well as part of a three step process i.e. ->

  1. Strategy  (what is our/my purpose and what is our/my  strategy to achieve it).
  2. Execution. 
  3. Review + Improve Strategy and Execution (the main kaizen step, although kaizen ought to be incorporated in every step).

It also goes hand in hand with the whole concept of “the 10 years, 10,000 hours rule” that Outliers and Talent is Overrated talk about i.e.

It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and focus on improving to truly master an area and reach a point of exceptional performance. This usually takes 8 to 10 years, sometimes longer.

 Kaizen and the 10 year rule go well together because Kaizen provides an exceptionally powerful framework to ensure that the 10,000 hours is actual ‘deliberate’ practice and makes you and your processes better.

Who is Deming?

W. Edwards Deming (courtesy Wikipedia) –

is perhaps best known for his work in Japan. There, from 1950 onward he taught top management how to improve design (and thus service), product quality, testing and sales (the last through global markets) through various methods, including the application of statistical methods.

Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s later renown for innovative high-quality products and its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Despite being considered something of a hero in Japan, he was only beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death

Deming taught the Japanese what became the foundation for the Kaizen philosophy and is the main reason that Toyota and Honda make better cars than the Big 3. His 14 points are revolutionary (you can find them on the Wikipedia Deming page) and some of the especially powerful points are –


*Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and stay in business, and to provide jobs.

*Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease cost.

*Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. (See Ch. 3 of “Out of the Crisis“)

*a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective (See Ch. 3 of “Out of the Crisis“).

*Put everyone in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everyone’s work. “Massive training is required to instill the courage to break with tradition. Every activity and every job is a part of the process.”

The Kaizen philosophy has now (finally) made its way to the US, although it is better known here by buzzwords like ‘Lean Manufacturing’, ‘Six Sigma’, ‘TQM’ , etc.  

Applying Kaizen and Deming’s Work to Achieve Personal Excellence

If you combine the two principles of

  1. The 10 year, 10,000 hours rule.  
  2. Kaizen – continuous improvement and always creating better and more efficient processes.

It gives you a rather interesting way of looking at yourself and what results you get –

  1. Everything you get in your life (health, wealth, job satisfaction, relationships,etc.) is a result of the processes you use and the purpose you choose.
  2. Your processes are the way you think (your beliefs), the way you do things (your habits), and the way you think of the future and your aims (your strategy and your purpose). All of these can and ought to be improved.
  3. With a sufficient amount of time (10,000 hours) and a focus on Kaizen you can become world class in any area, regardless of ‘natural talent’ (the Talent is Overrated book is specifically focused on this idea). Do note however, that if you are not passionate about an area it’ll be harder to get in the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
  4. Don’t overestimate what you can do in a year, and don’t underestimate what you can do in 10 years. Anthony Robbins came up with this – however, regardless of what you think of him, its a powerful concept.
  5. Its crucially important to decide very early or as early as possible what you want to commit to, and then  do it – that means Today. Tiger Woods’ dad started teaching him to hit golf balls and showing him technique before he could walk. The sooner you decide exactly what you want to achieve in your life and what area you want to excel in, the sooner you can start putting in your 10,000 hours.

A lot of self-help gurus use Deming’s principles (Anthony Robbins for example). However, instead of taking a $10,000 week-long retreat you just need to read up on Deming and Kaizen, look at the difference between Toyota and GM, and see the success of companies like Amazon.

Then make a decision on whether you will incorporate kaizen into your own life. And, if you decide yes, commit to it.