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Nope, it’s not the Japanese version of the Sham-Wow, although I’d pay good money to see that infomercial. Although there is no word in the English language that can describe what Shibumi is, we experience it as...

Nope, it’s not the Japanese version of the Sham-Wow, although I’d pay good money to see that infomercial. Although there is no word in the English language that can describe what Shibumi is, we experience it as...

 sp ff ff f 


It’s the moments in life where everything seems to fit together perfectly, without the herculean elegant simplicity, effortless effectiveness and beautiful imperfection. effort we are used to providing to It’s the moments in life where everything everything seems to fit produce these together perfectly, without the herculean effort we are used to providing experiences. to produce these experiences.

For most of us,

Shibumi seems to be an elusive thing – seemingly reserved for “other� people. But as Matthew May brilliantly portrays in his business fable The Shibumi Strategy there truly is a process we can all follow to find those moments on a daily basis. By practicing this process, we can all walk the path in pursuit of Shibumi.

kaizen Loosely translated, Kaizen means continuous improvement. Kai means change, and zen means “for the better”. If you work in a manufacturing environment, it’s likely you’ve bumped into this word once or twice. It’s a powerful principle, because it doesn’t view positive change as an event that has a starting point and an end point. Rather, it takes the view that change is a never ending process of small and steady steps rather than big leaps. With Shibumi comes great change. And despite what we might think or say about the topic, we all resist change. But if we make small, almost imperceptible changes over time, the results can often be dramatic. For instance, if you wanted to be 16 pounds lighter at this time next year, all you would need to do is stop drinking the equivalent of one can of Coca-Cola a day. The great thing with small continuous changes is that we aren’t hardwired to resist them.

The smaller the change, the smaller the fear.

At its core, Kaizen is made up of three simple steps:




and 2 are the

parts where

you simply need

to get yourself

into motion.

This is easier

said than

the first standard you create is something you can do without changing your habits in a hugely significant way, you’ll be fine.


done most days, but as long as



Create a standard

Numbers 1

It’s your ab

ility to

find a bette r way throughou t the process tha t will determine how quickly you r breakthrou ghs come.

t iga est


t n e m t s u j ad



In order to find your breakthroughs using the Kaizen process, use IDEA — a continuous and iterative loop that will help you solve the problem of finding a better way.

cu n






Using a period of reflection, gather the facts necessary to fully assess the situation. Make sure to include a clear definition of what you are trying to achieve. The principle that we will use in this stage is Genchi Genbutsu, which means go, look and see. This principle was made famous by Toyota, and the creator of the Toyota Production System, Taichi Ohno. When a new graduate was launched out of that system, he would take the graduate and then draw a chalk circle on the floor in front of an operation on the shop floor. His only advice to them would be to watch and observe, and to keep asking “why”. Usually, he’d come back after a period of time, ask them a question, and then have them watch even further. Sometimes the graduate would stand in that circle all day.

His way

p o i nt ? to


o n ly


ve ng so t hat yo u co uld i mpro ve u po n it i s to g et in t i m at e l y fam i l i a r w ith t he i t. W hen yo u do, yo u s tart to see p roblems , gaps so methi


o pp o rtu n i wo u l tie s d co t h at mple tely yo u i escap f yo u e tr ie d up w to co it h a me so lut the c i on o uff. ff

Another famous institution to train it’s employees in the power of observation is the New York Police Department. In fact, they have been doing this since the 1920’s. In a simple but elegant test, they show the recruits a sketch of a scene where a car has crashed. They are told to remember as many of the details as possible, and three minutes later are

given a test about how well they are able to discern and


the relevant facts. Although you may never

work at

Toyota or for the NYPD, here is the 3 step G E T W I T H T H E SHIBUMI

process to get your observational skills up to snuff: Describe: record the details of the situation in as much detail as you can. Do not interpret or judge anything at this point. Inquire: start asking the who, what, when, where and why of the situation. Again, make detailed notes. Conclude: using the notes you’ve created, start to make some


conclusions and frame the question or opportunity so that you are ready to move to the design stage.



The design stage is where you get to your p o te n t i a l s ol u t i o n s . Although entire books have been written on design thinking, you e s s e n t i a l l y wa n t to come into this portion of the process with an uncluttered mind. The old cliche that “when y o u a re a h a m m e r everything looks like a nail� holds true here. Your goal is to look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes. So, understanding your ideal state (the solution you want to get to), use the following seven shibumi principles to start creating solutions.








KANSO the simplest rules create the most effective order. This is the highest order of elegance, like Einstein’s E=mc2. Finding the simplest solution to your problem is not easiest thing to do, but it is the most effective.

SEIJAKU don’t something isn’t always better than doing nothing. Sometimes it’s the pauses in the music, or the piece missing from a piece of art that make it a masterpiece.

subtraction and restraint promote open innovation. Subtract all but the essential elements of your solution. Think like the designers at Apple Computers – less is more.

SHIZEN constraints are a natural source of sustainable innovation. Use the tools at your disposal for the solution. Having less at your disposal will often create a better solution.

DATSUZOKU “break” is an important part of any breakthrough. Some of your best ideas will come when you step away from the problem. Also, switch things up every once in awhile, even if it means taking a new route home from work.

FUKINSEI what isn’t there can often trump what is. People love symmetry and balance. So much so that when it isn’t there, they will supply it themselves. People are seduced by a solution that is out of balance because it allows them to participate in the solution.

YUGEN limiting information creates intrigue and engagement. Be subtle and leave things open to interpretation.



In this step, we will use the principle of Hoshin to create a strategic framework for implementing the solution. Hoshin means to aim, direct, or plan. It’s like the compass pointing towards true north – it ensures that everybody is working towards the same goal. But it is also about generating the required actions in order to get there. The following is a framework you can use to ensure that your solution gets implemented. Simply create list of items with the following columns:

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Direction or goal Key initiative Key activity Key targets Key measure Assignment Timing Budget

Keep track of all of these things and you’ll be well on your way to making sure that everything you need to get done, gets done.



Of course, this is a never-ending process and you need to check in to see how things are progressing. And because one of the principles to guide us is kaizen, we are continuously looking for areas to improve in. Here’s how.

“Olly olly oxen free!”

During this phase, we will be using the principle of


which means reflection and introspection.

The process consists of 3 questions, which again displays the principle of Kanso. It is truly an elegant solution for the process of reviewing progress. Here are the questions...

There are many ways to do this, one of the easiest and most effective ways was developed by the US Army. They called it the “After Action Review”, and it became such an important part of their process that they now use it to review almost everything they do.

It is almost a certainty that no matter how carefully you planned in the Hoshin stage, there will be gaps in what you planned to have happen, and what actually happened.

1 2





So there you have it. A simple summary for a simple and elegant book. But don’t be fooled by the relative short nature of the book – there’s a lot to it, and it will take plenty of p r a c t i c e m a s t e r. Good luck, young grasshopper.

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Shibumi Strategy  

Shibumi Strategy Summary

Shibumi Strategy  

Shibumi Strategy Summary