As you may know, I am a big fan of Shingijutsu-kaizen. Sensei from Shingijutsu trained me 22 years ago. It was a wonderful experience and has led to a life-long passion for kaizen. I have re-connected with Shingijutsu USA in recent years and have even greater appreciation for them. Many people also have strong positive feelings for Shingijustu USA kaizen consultants, and especially for sensei Chihiro Nakao.

Nakao-san is the Jutsu Shu of Shingijutsu USA, which means he is the steward of the company’s practice of kaizen. He personally trains and develops all kaizen consultants. The manner in which he trains them emphasizes a human-style that connects deeply to those who have experienced Shingijutsu-kaizen.

Yet, people who do not know Shingijutsu or Nakao-san may not understand this. They hear stories of people being scolded, of Mr. Nakao breaking down walls with a forklift, and people being “fired.” These stories have become larger-than-life and give people mistaken impressions.

It is true that some Shingijutsu consultants can be showman-like at times, but it is not idle showmanship. It is to make important points that help people learn lessons to apply immediately and evolve those idea into the future. Oftentimes, the energetic and expressive talk or demonstrations are funny, which helps with learning and retention. When sensei is being funny, or coming up with ridiculous ideas, it helps people be creative and come up with new ideas to try out.

Much is made of the scoldings that are sometimes given by Shingijutsu sensei. The word “scolding” is inaccurate. The accurate description is “correction” or “guidance.” There is seriousness to scoldings, but there is never any anger. Sensei does not get mad. Nor does sensei say “do this.” Instead sensei provides direction on what not to do so that the associate, team leader, or manager can discover the improvement for themselves.

Much is also made of being “fired” by Shingijutsu sensei. Firings occur only in narrow circumstances, such as when someone is being lazy. Firings are memorable, but what people do not talk about is the person who was fired is also re-hired 10 seconds later and given Buddha-like guidance on how to bring an abnormal condition back to the normal condition immediately. Shingijutsu senseis lead by the finger (showing), not by the mouth (talking). They develop people into those who lead by the finger.

From the beginning, I always understood scoldings and firings to have a helpful intent and a meaning associated with a good heart. Sensei is trying to help companies overcome their desperate situation: Unhappy customers, high costs, long lead-times, low quality, bad human resource practices and un-developed people, and so on. The kinds of things that threaten the existence of the company and the loss of everyone’s job. Sensei is helping correct the crisis the company is in by helping people learn how to make big improvements quickly.

As Nakao-san says: “When kaizen stops, everything stops.” Meaning, when kaizen stops the company returns to its former desperate situation. This is why kaizen must never stop. It is like the species of fish that dies when it stops swimming. Material and information must flow, otherwise they die. Therefore, make stopping obvious so that people will correct it immediately and continue to live.

The sensational stories about Shingijutsu-kaizen soon after they first arrived in the United States in 1987 are just that: early stories, ones that nobody should become anchored to. Shingijutsu sensei, and Nakao-san in particular, adjusted their style to be more acceptable to non-Japanese people. By his own admission, Nakao-san says he has became “sweeter and softer” over time. It’s true.

Shingijutsu-kaizen is 80 or 90 percent human and 10 or 20 percent technical. The main objective is to bring people’s mindset back to their childhood, to ask why and make the complex simple. Senseis use various means and methods to help achieve this. I remain forever grateful for such wonderful teachings.

Another human aspect of Shingijutsu-kaizen is its emotional impact. I have seen many remarkable process improvements that made me say WOW. But more than that, it resulted in a strong emotional reaction. The improvements actually bring tears to my eyes. In Japanese, this emotionally moving reaction is called kando da.

emo_moved1As we were talking about this during a recent kaizen, Nakao-san took out his red brush pen and wrote the word kando da! This is an accurate description of how I and others feel when we see people use their own creativity capabilities and make wonderful improvements, thereby reversing the company’s fortunes bit-by-bit. This is the humanity of Shingijutsu-kaizen.

I hope this helps you better understand the work of Shingijutsu USA. Please take advantage of their offerings. There is nothing else like it.


Disclosure: I have no business or financial relationship with Shingijutsu USA.

4 Responses to The Humanity of Shingijutsu-Kaizen

  1. Bob F. Butler says:

    I must say that Bob has penned an excellent piece relative to Chihiro Nakao…I was student of Nakao and spent plenty of time with him relative to learning and implementing the Shingijutsu Lean Thinking Philosophies. When I worked with him I was also with the “cream of the crop” relative to sensei’s. The Shingijutsu team that I worked with included Chihiro Nakao, Yoshiki Iwata, Akira Takenaka…all of these men were students of the Father of “Lean Thinking”, Taiichi Ohno

    One of the three pillars of the Shingijutsu Lean Philosophies was RESPECT for everyone, something that Western Managers truly lacked when “Lean Thinking” came to the USA. Great job by Bob…I read all of his papers on Lean and he is one of the most knowledgeable individuals relative to Lean that I have had the pleasure to associate with.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I hold Iwata, Nakao and the Shingijitsu corporation in very high regard. I got to experience working closely with them for over 7 years and was one of the lucky ones to go to Japan in 1997 to participate in the Gemba kaizen event. I owe much to them for my advanced abilities and understanding. It is second to none! Great article Bob! It is great to see the books and articles you write honoring them. Keep up the great work!

  3. Mark Bradway says:

    While I have not had the good fortune to work with Shingijitsu I admire what I am reading here. It sounds like I have learned the way they would have done. This is a great confidence builder. While things keeps changing right remains the same.

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