In the previous post, Turning Gold into Lead, I described how prominent organizations and individuals have long engaged in reverse alchemy, turning TPS and The Toyota Way (gold) into fluffy training programs (lead) that have little real-world impact. I also pointed out how the younger generation, notably Bruno Vasquez, is doing the hard work of invalidating reverse alchemy by ennobling the gold and denouncing the lead.
In this post, I’ll talk about how the younger generation in Lean world might take on the challenge to level up. Instead of doing reverse alchemy, gold to lead, figure out the alchemy necessary to turn gold into platinum.
Toyota gave the world a great gift, the Toyota Production System and The Toyota Way. It is the gold standard in management thinking and practice, including the associated leadership way of thinking and working. It replaced the previous standard, batch-and-queue production, which I’ll call the silver standard, long associated with classical management. Prior to that is the bronze standard, craft work, and its ad hoc way of management.
It is true that all three production methods remain in use today for different reasons. Many people appreciate craftsmanship and are willing to pay for that wonderful human skill. Many things must still be processed by batch-and-queue, whether the batch size is large or small. And many more things can be processed by flow than currently are. Each method was developed in a time and circumstance that called for such human and technological innovations.
For example, Toyota’s flow production system was originally developed as a better way to serve buyers’ markets (markets that favor the buyer’s interests) — lower cost (and lower prices), shorter lead-time, and higher quality. Batch-and-queue was originally developed as a common sense method of production that also happened to be well-suited to serve sellers’ markets (markets which favor the seller’s interests) — higher cost (and higher prices), longer lead-time, and lower quality. And craftsmanship was developed to serve small local markets.
But times have changed and so have circumstances, suggesting the need to create a new platinum standard for the type of market and customer that generally exists today or in the near future. So to begin to envision how to turn gold into platinum, some questions need to be asked:
- What is the current circumstance? Is “the market” still the focus as it has been for hundreds of years? Should the focus be the market plus something else of equal significance (e.g., an externality). Or should the focus be something else of greater importance than markets?
- Has the customer changed? How so? Do they still want an abundance of choices? Or do they want fewer choices, more standardization, lower prices, and other features or benefits?
- What aspects of Toyota Production System and The Toyota Way should be carried forward, and which should be left behind? This includes both the way of thinking (preconceptions) and the methods that Toyota developed over time.
- What leadership, management, business, economic, social, or other traditions should be carried forward and which should be abandoned or deemphasized? What new traditions need to be established to support the improvement from gold to platinum?
- What new ways of thinking and working need to be created to transform gold into platinum? What new preconceptions and new methods are needed?
And who will transform gold into platinum? Will it be Toyota? Or are they too deeply entrenched in their century-old way of thinking and doing things to break free? Will it be the younger generation of Lean pros and Toyota aficionados who realize that the status quo cannot be further sustained?
Ultimately, the question is, who will build on the gift that Toyota has given to humanity? We know well the prominent organizations and individuals who have done the opposite, turning gold into lead, and that their interest (and others like them in the future) is not to level up but to instead wait for platinum to be created so that they can once again turn it into lead.
And finally, there will be the ever-present problem of moving top business leaders from silver (classical management) to platinum. To help overcome that formidable barrier, the wise alchemists will first want to carefully study the research that describes why most top leaders resist, reject, or ignore the need to improve leadership and management practice.