To paraphrase author Robert Pirsig from his bestselling book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, this article is unrelated to the practice of orthodox Zen and not very deep on management either. However, this explores the five popular Japanese concepts of Ikigai, Kaizen, Ichigo Ichie, Muda and Ho-Ren-So in relation to your work.
But what is Zen? Zen is the English form of the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chan, which is derived from the Sanskrit Dhyana. Zen as a school of Buddhism focusses on attaining insights and applying them. Here’s how to apply insights from these concepts.
Or how to choose your career. In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author contrasts the gestalt or romantic approach to the classical approach to life. The first approach focuses on total experience of life and living in the moment while the latter relies on rational analysis and is well suited to problem-solving. Ikigai (ike=life and kai= meaning) is a Japanese concept for “the reason for which you wake up”. This romantic approach is about first knowing what makes you happy or what gives purpose and then building a career around it. If you are energised by people and derive satisfaction from healing others, consider a front-end career in healthcare.
A sense of ikigai reduces anxiety and your need for approval. Thus, to find what makes you tick, figure out when are you least stressed or unconcerned about opinions. Find a career around work you find meaningful, get good at it and you will find both happiness and wealth over time.
Or how to continuously grow in your career. Kaizen means improvement and belongs to the rational school. In your career, Kaizen is about making progress through improvement. There are two types. Point Kaizen is when you take immediate action without prior planning in a situation where a small action may lead to immense benefit. Check out areas of your life that are pending for single-step actions like filing reimbursements, submitting your annual goal sheet, getting your laptop upgraded or having that evaluation chat with your boss.
System Kaizen is when you create a long-term plan with several Kaizen events to reach a goal. If you wish to switch roles from sales to a service, first ease into an account management role, seek additional service tasks and finally request for a lateral move to a service team. At any point of time you must have a System Kaizen going on in your career while on a regular basis you are looking out for Point Kaizen.
3. Ichigo Ichie
Or how to be most productive. Ichigo Ichi, made famous by a Japanese tea master, says: this moment in your life is unique and will never repeat, so cherish its transience. At work, it asks you to stop multi-tasking and be absorbed whether you are studying data or talking to your colleague. Choose to be distraction-free, stop worrying about future outcomes and focus on the current task and thus deliver your best. Achieve success when you live by the hour and thus break down and tackle the toughest problems a bite at a time. Ichigo Ichie relieves you of anxiety by letting you detach from constant comparison and competition with others and allowing you to celebrate the uniqueness in you and in the moment.
4. Muda, Mura, Muri
Or how to reduce losses. Muda means waste or anything that doesn’t add value to your career. Mura means irregularity or non-uniformity that leads to waste. And Muri is excessive burden that may arise from over-correcting wastefulness. In your career, waste arises from activities and choices that do not progress you, like spending a couple of years at a dead-end job with no new learnings. Thus, while choosing a job offer, the biggest criterion is the next role it will lead to. Mura or nonuniformity comes from being unemployed or under-employed for periods of time and having excessive work at other times.
Thus, being on the bench or working in event-based roles or mis-planning a project will lead you to costly choices during crises and a stalled career at others. Muri is when you are in a job where you are constantly working weekends or putting in late hours daily. This will lead to a professional burnout, erosion of relationships, halted learning and no bandwidth to seize chance opportunities.
Or how to communicate. Ho-Ren-So is the abbreviate form of Hokoku (report), Renraku (inform) and Sodan (consult). Reporting-informing-consulting is thus a communication mantra for your career. Reporting progress or mistakes to your manager timely and accurately keeps you in good books by improving the manager’s decision-making while reducing his stress.
Informing colleagues in time about relevant facts and data unbiased by your opinion, helps everyone take timely action and increases velocity of work in your team. Finally, when the decision, outcome and ownership is yours, then consulting with your peers and superiors helps you pick their brains, get their buy-in and thus express and execute the best ideas optimally.
7 TYPES OF WASTE
There are seven types of waste in Muda. Touching or moving a product without adding value is a cost and involves risk of damage or delay. When the product is you, unnecessary movement is your long daily commute or your participation in unrelated projects. Avoid these and regain a significant percentage of your career.
Waste is capital blocked in inventory of raw material/product that is not generating money. Avoid cost and time of acquiring degrees and certifi cates that will not be used. At work, shed idle resources from your team or project.
Consider costs and breakages from unproductive movement of people and resources in a project. Eschew long meetings, overtime and constant changes to a plan to improve productivity.
When people or products are neither in motion nor in process, you are losing time and money from the waiting. Favour quick decisions, release of resources and delegation.
The worst kind of waste is producing more than the customer requires. Avoid the easy way out of scheduling large batches ahead of demand. Additional effort required for small batches is worth the while.
Doing more than required, over-processing, using expensive inputs beyond customer need is also waste. Seeking perfection in every task is a personal vice and a burden you are imposing on your fi rm and career.
7. Faulty work
Lack of planning or design leads to defects. The cost is incurred when you discard or rework. Your best approach is to do it right the first time as a habit by establishing minimum standards and processes in your own work and in your team.