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How the Japanese art of Kaizen can improve your copy

One of the most important lessons I learned when teaching English in rural Japan – aside from where the best karaoke places were and how to avoid bears when cycling to work – was the art of “Kaizen”.

Kaizen is often translated as “continuous improvement” and is a powerful Japanese business philosophy that takes a holistic approach to improving an organisation, its products, services, and people through small-scale, gradual, and easy-to-implement changes.

The concept was introduced in Japan in 1950, but only became popular in the west during the 1980s, when American companies realised that their Japanese counterparts were outperforming them after applying this philosophy. It can be broken down into five important qualities: discipline, order, organisation, standardisation and “cleanness” (i.e. eliminating waste).

Although it was initially used to streamline manufacturing processes, the strategy has also found success in industries such as IT, healthcare, psychology, government, life-coaching, and banking as a way to improve processes, decision-making, and logistics.

While I used Kaizen to learn Japanese, and worked as a professional translator for almost a decade, the philosophy is very adaptable. With that in mind, read on to find out how the five qualities of Kaizen can make your copy sparkle.

Discipline is essential for completing tasks in a thorough way

An important principle in the Kaizen philosophy is self-discipline, or Shitsuke. This is the power to stick to decisions and carry them out thoroughly.

When it comes to writing, developing your skills takes dedication and lots of time. Those who excel at it have spent time reading, studying, experimenting, and making mistakes that they learn from. And, importantly, when they get stuck they know when to call on experts who can help.

This consistency is also key when maintaining a strong social media presence, whether that’s tweeting ideas worth sharing or sending out blogs, newsletters, or bespoke content to your clients.

To become a better writer, and to make your writing have a greater impact, Kaizen recommends you stay the course.

Having a clear and orderly plan is important to get jobs done

While I love a neatly organised pen and post-it collection as much as the next word-nerd, Seito (Order) is more to do with effectively segregating items, tasks, and goals. When it comes to writing, this means starting with a clear plan of what you want to achieve and then trying to work without distraction until you’ve done it.

The best-selling novelist Haruki Murakami is a famously focused writer; he rises at 4am, writes for five or six hours, runs 10km or swims 1500m (or sometimes both!), before finally going to bed at 9pm.

As he says: “I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else.”

Emulating this focus and work ethic, whether you’re writing novels or newsletters, is a sure-fire recipe for success.

Making sure that you’re organised can help to streamline your work

The aim of Seiri (Organisation) is to streamline your work or your workspace. This can help you to eliminate unnecessary mess, clutter, and confusion.

The same can be applied to your copy by producing simple and easy to understand writing that gets right to the heart of the issue.

In the words of George Orwell, whose writing style we discussed in a previous blog, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out”.

Consistency is key for producing regular and high-quality work

Building a writing routine is one of the greatest challenges for any writer, but consistency is essential to produce high-quality copy on a regular basis. This is where the principle of Seiketsu (Standardisation) can help.

However, this standardisation of the writing process isn’t just about using that favourite pen or writing at a certain time of day. To be a good writer, you need to produce a consistent tone of voice that’s tailored to each client, whether that’s for their social media, website, blogs or newsletters. This is why knowing your audience, and always keeping them in mind, is so important.

It’s essential to check your work to ensure it’s free of errors

Seiso (Cleanness) might have originally applied to sweeping up factory floors to maintain a clean and safe workspace but this facet is also essential for good writing.

“Cleanness” means ensuring that your writing is in the best condition possible when it goes to a client, as any typos or errors can undermine an otherwise excellent piece of copy.

That’s why it’s so important to check and recheck your work, as well as seeking feedback from a professional proofreader or editor, to ensure that your writing makes the best impression possible.

Successful Kaizen is built on teamwork

The most important element of successful Kaizen is collaboration; it’s built on the exchange of new ideas, skills and experience.

Applying these five pillars of Kaizen will improve your own writing, but if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for advice and feedback.

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If you want to give your clients engaging and informative blogs, guides, and newsletters, we can help. Get in touch with us at [email protected] or call 0115 8965 300.

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