The Toyota Dilemma

Over the past weeks we have been following threads that come from several questions that Greg and I have been asking. Our questions are like this:

  1. How come people keep trying and failing to copy what Toyota has done?
  2. Is Toyota really that good? Or does the spotty record of wanna-be copiers indicative of a half-baked theory? Does it work in Japan, but not here?
  3. How disastrously bad is their competition in the automobile industry? Is that why they are taking over the #1 spot globally, and winning so handily?
  4. What are people in the automobile industry watching that they keep (apparently) missing the beef? We think that they are not stupid people; then then they must be trapped in a really bad story about how the world works, and must be misunderstanding what Toyota has been doing.

One of the conversations that Greg and I have says that we are playing out different stories. We fell in love with cars in different ways than did the Japanese. Their national story about extraordinary human beings has in its background the Samurai tradition – in which, among other things, people surrender to disciplines and traditions, and build excellence out of time and practice. In the US, we fell in love with cars as part of our exploration of the dimensions of freedom. It is still a rite of initiation in this country for a young person to reach the age of 16, be licensed, and move towards owning a car. This is a nation of people who escaped from other tribes and refused to be dominated. Kind of the opposite of Toyota. We think, however, that it is possible to build a version of the Toyota Production System that fits with our impatient, freedom-loving, entrepreneurial and strongly independent way of being.

What do you think?

What do our questions provoke for you?

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One thought on “The Toyota Dilemma

  1. Generally the gap between Toyota and General Motors in the Manufacturing plants has been largely closed. The tremendous gaps in productivity (hours per vehicle) and quality do not exist like they did 10 years ago. The tremendous gaps that exist now are in the structure of the dealerships and the productivity of the non-manufacturing processes like product development. Here there is very little in terms of “what and how” Toyota does work. The Toyota Production System is viewed almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the manufacturing plants and there has been a great deal of work and progress toward creating parity there. What is left now is closing the gaps in how we work with this massive network of dealerships (who by the way are not part of General Motors – they are separate companies) and the legacy of coordination internally that is the precursor of everything that occurs in the manufacturing plants. You find very little in terms of what is to be done there when you read works like The Machine that Changed the World, Lean Thinking, Taichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System, etc. This domain requires new design conversations and new ways to enable effective coordination.

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