The Improvement Kata: Part 1

The following is the first of a series of posts that will dive into the Improvement Kata and how its methods can help improve your lean culture.

What is the Improvement Kata?

Kata is a Japanese term describing a structured routine you practice deliberately, eventually becoming a force of habit. As a result, the kata pattern you develop becomes second nature; completed with little to no conscious effort.

The improvement kata pattern is a “meta-habit,” aiming to change our habits of cognition, so that our capabilities can be unlocked and expanded. It involves a scientific four-step sequence, which is an operational and teachable model for a universal pattern for improving, adapting and innovating.

Mike Rother, author of the book Toyota Kata, has created a handy Improvement Kata Handbook which helps establish the ways a means any organization can implement the improvement kata into their culture.

Thinking about how we think

The ability to meet challenges and improve — to learn, adapt, grow and evolve — is a critical task in a complex, changeable world. -Mike Rother

Almost everything you do throughout your daily routine is habitual. From brushing your teeth, to driving to work, to crossing your arms. Habits are behaviors that have been embedded into you, needing little to no cognitive effort to perform. From these repeated actions, our brain creates neural pathways in the brain, allowing us to complete the behavior through embedded unconscious thinking patterns.

This is a tool for your brain to free up space for those moments when deliberate or conscious decision making is necessary. However, in its attempts to be efficient, our brain is reliant upon unconscious thinking patterns to get through the day. They take less energy to perform and have quicker reaction times than deliberate or conscious thinking.

The problem with this train of thought is the habits creating your unconscious thinking are derived from past experiences. Experiences that don’t always represent future situations.


Changing the mold through kata

Believe it or not your brain is made of plastic. Well, not really but the idea is still the same.

As humans we have the power to change our old habits and develop new ones. Your brain has the ability to be molded continuously throughout your life, allowing for a lifetime of learning. Essentially, rewiring your brain is a lot easier than rewiring your car.

This is what the improvement kata is all about.

If you deliberately or consciously practice a different pattern of behavior you can then develop a new way of unconscious thinking, ultimately changing your habitual way in which you operate.

This type of knowledge and power over the mind can change the culture of an organization and help achieve the goals you wish to overcome.

Out with the old…

The goal behind the book Toyota Kata, and the Improvement Kata Handbook is to address the unconscious routines that we use for dealing with problems and challenges. Then, subsequently develop new mental circuits not for solutions, but for a systematic, scientific way of developing solutions that are habitual.

The content-free meta skill outlined in the book and handbook is important because it can be applied to an endless number of situations. Even those challenges that we don’t see coming or have not prepared for are addressed with confidence and a can do it attitude. To do this though one needs to be able to separate WHAT you’re working on from HOW you’re working on it. The improvement kata focuses on the HOW.

The systematic and scientific approach is a method for expanding your current knowledge threshold. By doing so, you allow yourself and the ones around you to successfully navigate through unknown territory together.

In other words, you might not always know what’s going to happen or how to achieve a desired condition, but you will have the mental tools to overcome each situation as it comes, not matter what it might be.

What can practicing the improvement kata offer you and your teams?

  • Set and achieve objectives that lie beyond their current capabilities
  • Overcome obstacles and meet challenges
  • Commonize how they improve, adapt and innovate
  • Generate true continuous improvement
  • Face evolution and change with a positive sense of we can do it

To be continued…

Making scientific thinking and working a habit is a process that takes time and repetition. The result however, is employees with a focused attention to objectives and the ability to address situational details on the job that require conscious thought with greater confidence.

Coming up; an in-depth look at the four-step process of the improvement kata, kata and lean and much more.

Additional Resources