A Great Article about Toyota

Greg found a wonderful article by Charles Fishman in last month’s Fast Company that gives the best answer we’ve seen in writing to our question, why do so many attempt and fail to copy what Toyota has been doing so well for so long.

Here are selections from the conclusion of the article:

Lots of companies have tried to learn and use the methods that Toyota has refined into a routine, a science, a way of being and thinking. …

And the Big Three have each gotten better at making cars: … But they all still trail Toyota.

Without any fanfare at all, Toyota is confounding, if not defying, conventional wisdom about the current state of the U.S. economy.

Typically, though, the Big Three take an all-too-American approach to the idea of improvement. It’s episodic, it’s goal-oriented, it’s something special–it’s a pale imitation of the approach at Georgetown. “If you go to the Big Three, you’d find improvement projects just like you’d find at Georgetown,” says Jeffrey Liker, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and author of The Toyota Way, a classic exploration of Toyota’s methods. “But they would be led by some kind of engineering group, or a Six Sigma black belt, or a lean-manufacturing guru of some kind.

“They might even do as good a job as they did at Georgetown. But here’s the thing. Then they’d turn that project into a PowerPoint. They’d present it at every place in the whole company. They’d say, ‘Look what we did!’ In a year, that happens a couple of times in a whole plant for the Big Three. And it would get all kinds of publicity in the company.

“Toyota,” Liker says, “is doing it in every single department, every single day. They’re doing it on their own”–no black belts–“and they’re doing it regularly, not just once.”

So you can buy the books, you can hire the consultants, you can implement the program, you can preach business transformation–and you can eventually run out of energy, lose enthusiasm, be puzzled over why the program failed to catch fire and transform your business, put the fat binders on a conference-room shelf, and go back to business as usual.

What happens every day at Georgetown, and throughout Toyota, is teachable and learnable. But it’s not a set of goals, because goals mean there’s a finish line, and there is no finish line. It’s not something you can implement, because it’s not a checklist of improvements. It’s a way of looking at the world. …

If you’re looking for a plateau, you’re going to be frustrated. There is no ‘solution.'”…

“Once you realize that it’s the process itself–that you’re not seeking a plateau–you can relax. Doing the task and doing the task better become one and the same thing,” Shook says. “This is what it means to come to work.”

Much as we like the article (Greg loves the way that Fishman ‘distinguishes the two paradigms’ in the way that he talks about Toyota), we still doubt that anyone from the big three are going to begin the transformation of the US Automobile Industry from here. Why? What more is missing?

Talk to you later.

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3 thoughts on “A Great Article about Toyota

  1. I found this article an interesting commentary on more than the obvious subject, car production. To me this article comments on the value of a long term operating paradigm vs. short term goals. While you can have success at short term goals, without an overriding paradigm they remain short term successes. In some ways this could be a commentary on eastern vs. western current political practices. If you look at our relationships with Asia we often make decisions that may be successful in the short term but in the long run they hurt our country. Just like the big three, we as a country will have to adjust our overall operational paradigm to maintain our economic success or to regain our international respect.

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