Practising Kaizen: Which Zone are you in?

Benjamin Disraeli said that the secret of success is for a man to be ready for his time when it comes. The only way to be ready for your time when it comes is to be prepared for it. This is because the time to prepare is not after you have been given the opportunity but before the opportunity ever arises. If you wait to prepare only when you get the opportunity, then it’ll usually be too late. To be ready and prepared, you have to make ‘kaizen’ a priority.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement”. It is a philosophy that focuses on (never ending) continuous improvement which gels with the principles of lifelong learning. Most people fail to live up to their potential because they stop working on themselves. This is sometimes due to complacency or the fact that they simply underestimate the time and effort that is required to grow.

Noel Tichy’s diagram (below) illustrates the three key zones connected to growth. The three zones are contained in three concentric circles. The inner circle is the Comfort Zone, the middle is the Learning Zone and the outer zone is the Panic Zone. He describes the Comfort Zone as the area in which we have mastery. The things you do effortlessly or the things that have become a routine for you. These are activities that you once found difficult but are now easy. This zone encourages one to become complacent and you find yourself stagnating instead of growing if you choose to stay indefinitely in this zone.

The Learning Zone is the stretch zone. This is the area you should always want to be and the place where kaizen is most effective. You take on projects, tasks and assignments that take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. This involves exposing yourself to new information and skills that expand the depth of your knowledge base and get you to experiment new things.

The Panic Zone is the fail zone. A lot of people tackle projects and tasks that overwhelm them instead of stretch them and the only outcome is failure instead of growth. This is a result of trying to skip the required learning steps of whatever they’re seeking to master. Unrealistic attempts to grow exponentially, instead of incrementally, within a short time frame will only produce stress and failure. Tony Robbins once said that “people underestimate what they can achieve in 10 years and overestimate what they can accomplish in one year”.

You enjoy the benefits of kaizen when you stay within the Learning Zone and gradually expand the zone as you grow. The Comfort Zone makes you complacent while the Panic Zone stresses you out and makes you frustrated. Which zone are you currently operating in?

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Practising Kaizen: Which Zone are you in?

  1. Adelaide

    Thank you for bringing clarity and meaning to my experiences.
    Wise words

  2. So true Bro……so true.
    The concept is simple yet powerful!!!

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ogechi

    This is good stuff, no doubt. However, I dare ask, in the quest for learning, how can one avoid falling into the trap of becoming ‘Jack/Jackie of all trades, master of none’. This is something I’ve been mulling over this year. I don’t want to fall into that trap and yet I am always seeking ways of self-improvement…
    Thanks for breaking the zones down, though. I certainly hope and plan to stay in the Learning Zone, but I imagine there has to be a balance struck somehow…I don’t want anyone to call me ‘Jackie’

  4. Tamara

    Hmmmm. a lot of food for thought. The comfort zone can be a deceptive place to be in, because it eludes us in thinking that we are doing very well when yet we are simply doing the things we have become an expert at.

    There’s a module I am learning on Managing Partnership Systems and goodness me it stretches me. I agree with the good stretching theory as opposed to being frustrated and giving up. Thanks for this. It sheds a lot more light on this particular module.

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