Copying Toyota

Today, various non-profit organizations are working 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 yes, because the benefits are many and the risks appear to be few.

But, perhaps they don’t know 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.”

He should know. The few Lean successes and continuing proliferation of Fake Lean confirm what Cho-san has long known.

TPS-ThinkingToyota thinking is informed by four elements shown in the image at right. Few of us can legitimately claim to understand how each element informs Toyota thinking and, especially, kaizen thinking. People vastly underestimate Cho-san’s words.

Leaders three 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 – but only up to a point. While they may be able to understand it partially, it will be nearly impossible for them to understand it fully and truly feel it; it will not become part of them. Yet, a partial understanding can be good enough to enjoy some success.

The second 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 (business process) coach, 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:

  • 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.

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