The first of the seven attributes that distinguish Toyota from all other carmakers is humility, writes K. Dennis Chambers in ‘How Toyota Changed the World’ ( Humility, he explains, promotes respect across the workspace, tends to keep gossip down, underscores the value of listening to others, and mitigates the tendency of most people to think that what they are doing is the most important thing to be doing at the time.

An associated word in Japanese is ‘hansei,’ meaning look inward or reflect on what one has done wrong. And the notion of hansei goes to the heart of one’s ability to accept criticism, explains Chambers.

“Japanese style is to offer criticism routinely, as a way of showing respect for the fact that the person receiving the criticism can – and wants to – improve. Praise is rare in older Japanese culture. Why should one be praised for doing what is good and honourable?”

The second distinguishing attribute of Toyota is to invest in the future, the book notes. “Where Detroit’s Big Three are burdened by union actions and pensions of people long retired, Toyota spends more than $10 million a day in research and development.”

Third, immerse everyone in the corporate culture. The solid three-brick foundation has process (the outcome), people (who, unlike machines, have the ideas), and technology (which lives in ideas).

People are not discardable or interchangeable, Toyota thinks. “Each person is unique, with unique ideas and unique perceptions. Further, they can be trained and rewarded to come up with improvements if the organisation wishes to invest in such training.”

Fourthly, Toyota believes in removing waste from the process, no matter how small. “All of its plans have achieved something that most other manufacturing operations can only dream of: near-zero waste of raw materials at the end of the process.”

The author informs that while Toyota still throws out paper and plastic waste for recycling, yet, for all the tons of raw materials it brings into the plants, virtually none leaves except as part of the vehicles or as scraps to be recycled into the next batch of raw materials. “Nothing metallic goes to waste.”

Next, promote cleanliness as the father of profitability. “In Toyota’s culture, clutter is distracting. If a worker is thinking about what to do with trash, he or she is not thinking about how to make the process better. Therefore, clutter has to go.”

The sixth trait of the car leader is to concentrate on flow, because flow is the only means to achieve lean manufacturing, Toyota believes. The early contributors to the process are upstream, in the flow, while the later contributors of value are downstream. “Lean production means the stream is flowing at just the right speed for us to get the work done and maintain high quality.”

In contrast to stream and flow, which are good images for lean production, the images for mass production are pond and stagnation, Chambers frets. “Look at any pond or lake. Do you see rocks or boulders in the water? You might see a few, but common sense tells you that most of the rocks are under water, hidden from sight.”

And, the seventh attribute of Toyota is that it understands failure begins the moment one is pleased with oneself. Staying focused on serving customers is the only antidote to the human frailty of lapsing into a comfort zone, Toyota executives know. “Once in a while, even Toyota forgets that, and the slide begins alarmingly quickly.”

Compelling insights.


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