I have no way of knowing, without considerable effort, whether or not Fujifilm updates firmware more often than other camera companies, but it seems to me, from gliding around the internet, that Fujifilm is known for frequently updating their X-Series firmware. While waiting in line to try out the new X-100s and X 20 at CP+ in Yokohama the other week, I was talking with Richard Butler of DP Review about Fujifilm’s firmware updates. Although I didn’t mention it at the time, during this conversation the idea occurred to me that Fujifilm’s actions regarding firmware might be a tangible manifestation of the idea of kaizen. I thought today I might briefly expound upon this. While talking with Richard, I brought up the possibility (as in, speculation, not an established fact) that some manufacturers might be reluctant to update firmware, as it represents, in a sense, an admission that things were not correct or perfect at the time of product release. It can certainly be interpreted as such. Consumers can at times be critical when firmware is updated, questioning why problems had not been eliminated before product release.* It was at this point that I reflected (to myself) that an understanding of the idea of kaizen might help explain repeated firmware updates and to mollify those with objections to this process.
I’m not really qualified to comment on Japanese business practises or the Japanese language,** but kaizen basically is the business philosophy of ‘continuous refinement or continuous change for the better.’ My iOS dictionary (“Imiwa?” – based upon Jim Breen’s JMdict project) defines kaizen as “betterment, improvement.” It then expands thusly, “kaizen (Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement).”
The word itself is made up of two kanji (Chinese logograms used in Japanese writing). See photo below.kai / arata (on & kun readings respectively): reformation, change, modify, mend, renew, examine, inspect, search.zen / yo: virtuous, good, goodness.
From the above, it can be seen that, linguistically, kaizen contains no implication of the idea ‘continuous.’ This is understood as being an integral part of the process however (once you accept the word as representing a ‘philosophy’ – something which is also not implied in the word itself).
One of the key points of kaizen is that these continuous efforts at improvement are applied everywhere, not only to problem areas. Thus, everything is (hopefully) improved, even the parts that are already good.
Wikipedia offers a good and reasonably short overview of kaizen, including its interesting, post WWII, US occupation origins. Kaizen, as practised by Japanese companies, is an overreaching approach, applied or practised by every single worker, at all levels, system wide. Thus, strictly speaking, I’m not sure that firmware updates in of themselves are an example of kaizen. However, the frequent refinement of the firmware itself most probably is, and Fujifilm can only be applauded in extending this concept out to cameras already in the hands of consumers, rather than waiting for the cycle of new generation releases. If nothing else, an understanding of kaizen might offer a convenient framework for interpreting why Fujifilm frequently updates firmware, rather than attempting to ‘get it right’ the first time round. It was ‘right,’ now it’s ‘more right.’ * having said that, I’m sure most people are delighted to have their firmware updated. ** at first, considering my truly abysmal ability in this area, I was reluctant to expound on the Japanese language. However, when I contrasted this with the fact that I’m blogging about a camera that I don’t even own, it didn’t seem so absurd after all. Typed with the help of Pearl Jam’s Alive and The Eastern’s Hope and Wire & The Letting Go