Copying Toyota

Today, various organizations work to spread Toyota’s thinking and practices with greater fidelity than ever before. While their efforts are well-meaning, you may want to ask yourself this question: “Is it wise to try and copy Toyota?” Most people would say “no.” Perhaps is it because they heard what Fujio Cho, one of Taiichi Ohno’s disciples, and former Toyota President and Chairman once said:

“Our way of thinking is very difficult to copy or even to understand.”

The few Lean successes and continuing proliferation of Fake Lean confirm what Cho-san has long known. But that does not mean copying Toyota is futile. My view is that one should copy as much as possible. Doing so will serve as the foundation for learning fundamentals that will allow you to create your own unique version of TPS.

TPS-ThinkingToyota thinking is informed by four elements shown in the image at right. Few of us “Westerners” can legitimately claim to understand how these four element inform Toyota thinking and, especially, kaizen thinking. Nevertheless, leaders have choices.

The first choice is:

1. Undertake a big challenge: Try to copy Toyota

Leaders who are strongly motivated can learn the four elements over time. It will be nearly impossible for them to understand it fully and truly internalize it, yet a high level of understanding can be gained over time. That is good enough to enjoy a considerable amount of success.

The second choice, often combined with the first choice is:

2. Get help: Hire a kaizen coach for 20-plus years

Most organizations will need to have a long-term relationship with a kaizen coach (former Toyota person), much in the same way that pro golfers have a coach throughout their careers.

The third choice is:

3. Go back to basics

Going back to basics means the strategic approach taken for leadership and for management of the entire organization is as follows:

  • Purpose: Customer satisfaction
  • Objective: Flow (all material and all information)
  • Requirement: Respect for people (all stakeholders)
  • Process: The Scientific Method (applied to all problems)

With diligent effort, you will discover on your own that flow is the common denominator that drives every organization to the same principles and practices – but without the wisdom, richness, and depth of meaning that informs Toyota thinking.

So go ahead and copy Toyota or find your own way!

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