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.

8 Responses to Copying Toyota

  1. Tom Hussey says:

    Yes! The image sums it up for me. I lived in Japan for over five years and worked in many different organizations. There were many aspects to Japanese culture that I kind of understood but also couldn’t completely get my head around. It’s these aspects that contribute to making kaizen a success.

    Interestingly, a lot of the Japanese way of thinking comes from formative experiences in the school system. You can’t really begin to understand the Japanese unless you’ve been to school in Japan …

  2. Dick Danjin says:

    Bob, let me start out by saying that I have read every thing that you have available on the web.”Copying Toyota.” What comes to mind is something Deming would say this 4 day seminars in the early 1980s, “You cannot learn from other peoples examples.” Your quote of Fuji Cho, “Our way of thinking is very difficult to copy or even to understand.” My response is why is every one using Japanese and evoking Toyota? “Why form an organization for a purpose and then operate it in a way that defeats the purpose?” This is a variation on Deming “What is the purpose of your system.”

    • John Dennis says:

      Very well said Dick. I didn’t know that Deming said that about not learning from other people’s examples…but now I do…and it was extremely insightful of him. I too am tired of seeing so many books and training courses on Lean starting with the assumptions that Lean came from TPS and in order to be successful in Lean we must copy TPS. This is mainly the consequence of the MIT Group, Womack et al and their books in the early 90’s, but we must move past that now and start changing our training materials to reflect what we now know to be correct.

  3. Hal says:

    Or, in essence, what Dr. Deming warned is that leaders end of tampering with the system (funnel experiment) and end up making things worse than before. Ultimately blaming everyone but themselves!

  4. Dick Danjin says:

    Yes, of course Hal you are right about the funnel experiment. We must keep in mind that if one were to do a Google search on WE Deming quotes, there are many pages of his quotes.

    In Deming the consultant, the condition of his “entry” into a corporation was that his meeting be ONLY with the top person in the corporation, in the case of General Motors only Roger Smith the CEO and Chairman of the board of Directors.

    In my experience, any consultant that does not meet with that some one person that can say yes or no to every decision in the organization would do better staying home.

  5. John Dennis says:

    Another valuable post from Prof Emiliani. I am trying to educate folks in the UK that Lean is not all about TPS, and that solid Lean principles for process improvement existed decades and even centuries before Toyota implemented them. There are still consultants and trainers in large organizations such as our UK National Health Service who build their whole training program around what Toyota did in TPS. This needs to change … and more people need to hear the view of Lean from the likes of Prof Emiliani.

  6. Dick Danjin says:

    John, what you are calling “solid lean principles” is in fact Scientific Management (SM) in fact SM came to Japan in 1910 and to China in 1912 it has been there ever since,In America Henry Ford embraced SM as early as 2009. Sm is in my opinion the seminal foundation of Management.SM is the tree that gets decorated with the geographical and societal atmosphere of it finds it’s self.When Deming went to Japan along with Juran in 1950 ir was to follow up on the 5 years work that Homer Saraschon did bring an update to the SM that had been in japan since2010.The literature the time was Toyota who.My feeling is that the Lean Community involver workers in Healthcare,industry and service in a secondary “god” that becomes a distraction for workers and that the approach is no frat the perspective of the worker “From the perspective of the worker: The essential purpose and function of management is to create and operationalize an organizational structure to control and disseminate the resources in the system: in order to capacitate and enable workers to do task within a defined field of discretion,in a safe workplace;and in a manner that does not require a worker to expend ant physical or mental energy fighting the system to do their job” I wrote that in March 1993.

  7. Dick Danjin says:

    Sorry about the TYPO “God” should have been JOB

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