What’s In a Name ? The Meaning of “Aikaizen”

aikaizen committed to continuous improvementOur management consultancy called Peak Performance had been operating out of the UK since 2001.

It was 2007. It was time for a change.

I am not a branding expert, but I thought IF I was a branding expert, “what would my branding guidelines be for selecting a new name?” This is what I came up with:

  1. A word beginning with the letter “A”.
  2. A word that has three syllables or less.
  3. A word that encapsulates and embodies what we do and the way we do it, i.e. our values.
  4. A word that other companies are not using and/or a new word.
  5. A word that will get people asking questions.

I scoured the A-section of the Oxford English dictionary, the A-section of online Latin dictionaries and various other languages. There were several words that I liked, but the problem was that they didn’t meet all 5 criteria. The criterion that most often fell short was number 3. Also, many of the words I liked were already taken – either company names or purchased domain names. What to do ? I just couldn’t seem to come up with a new name. So I surrendered and left it for a bit, trusting that when I am not thinking about it, something will emerge… and it did… One cold Sunday evening in December 2008 I was practicing Aikido. My focus was on doing forward rolls without fearing for my neck. As I came out of the roll, feeling pleased with myself that I hadn’t broken my neck, the word “Aikaizen” popped into my head. I let it stay there for a while until the meditation session at the end of practice… and there it sat, nicely like a block perfectly placed in a game of Tetris.

How did Aikaizen emerge into my consciousness ? Well, as soon as I came across the word “kaizen” and it’s meaning during an inspirational training course in 1992, I decided to adopt it as part of my value system. Kaizen means continuous improvement, and I was awed by the big meaning of such a small but impactful word. I believe for organisations to have a spirit of continuous improvement, each team and each individual needs to adopt a spirit of continuous improvement. Those of you that have attended one my of courses may recall that I always manage to weave in the importance of kaizen in learning and mastering new skills. When I started Aikido, I was also fascinated by the meaning of the word “aikido”. Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying with life energy” or as “the way of the harmonious spirit”.

The word “aikido” is made of three kanji:Aikido_Kanji

ai – meaning to join, combine or unify

ki – meaning energy or spirit

dō – meaning the way, or path

 

 

Problem: I came up with a great word which I couldn’t find on the internet or a Japanese dictionary, but the “ai” part didn’t fit with “kaizen” to create the meaning I intended. Thankfully I realised that “ai” in “aikido” is not the same as “ai” – the word for love. Japanese is a very contextual language, so I could create aikaizen to mean “love for continuous improvement” or “committed to continuous improvement.” Armed with this information and very basic understanding of the language, I checked out whether this would work by consulting a lovely Japanese lady whom I met at one of my client engagements. Yes! She said YES! It fits in with the language structure and Aikaizen would very sensibly mean “committed to continuous improvement”.

And that’s how “aikaizen” came to be:

  1. A word beginning with the letter “A”.
  2. A word that has three syllables or less.
  3. A word that encapsulates and embodies what we do and the way we do it, i.e. our values.
  4. A word that other companies are not using and/or a new word.
  5. A word that will get people asking questions.

On the last point – many people battle to pronounce the word Aikaizen – they look at it and one can see the confused expression on their faces BUT I always get the question “what does it mean ?” followed by “how did you come across this word ?”. Questions are good… keep the questions rolling!

With SPECIAL THANKS to Megumi for her help.

Domo Arigato Megumi.

Aikaizen in Kanji

Below is the Japanese kanji symbols for the word aikaizen. The first symbol is the kanji for “ai” and the second and third symbols are the kanji for the word “kaizen.”

Aikaizen in Kanji