Uncontrolled Acceleration at Toyota?


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A stream of negative news has seriously tarnished Toyota’s reputation as the world leader in high quality production. Questions about its vaunted business methodologies are sure to follow.

I’m no project manager, and never studied The Toyota Way or its many profitable permutations. But I lived in Japan for 8 years, helped start a small business in Osaka, then worked for NEC and the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC. I also taught Japanese Business Culture to large companies for the state of Oregon.

And my best guess about Toyota’s deteriorating business problems comes from a scholarly article I translated from Japanese for the Smithsonian Institution, almost 20 years ago.

Describing Japan’s centuries-old rice culture, the author noted how an entire village’s survival would depend on neighbors’ concerted, democratic and selfless determination to plant rice at the beginning of rice season, then harvest it at the end.

Almost every worker was interchangeable to avoid lapses or gaps in orchestrated “production” lines. During those intense days, everyone in the village was either working or actively supporting workers. Malingerers were “murahachibu” or outcasts; that’s how important this annual cycle was to the village.

Now fast forward to Toyota not so long ago, when any line worker spotting a quality problem was empowered to halt car production by pulling a handy “cord” hanging nearby.

That dedication to quality helped Toyota become the world’s top auto manufacturer. But fast growth must have diluted their fierce work ethic and pride in quality. Otherwise, how could company executives have kept sweeping serious quality problems under the rug?

Knowing the Japanese as I do, it’s difficult to fathom the grief that company leaders felt, reading news articles about an American family of four dying in a fiery crash when their Lexus accelerator became stuck on a highway. It’s a good thing they no longer carry swords, or they might be tempted to fall on them.

A pale shadow of the Japanese hallmark sense of unity, shared purpose and dedication felt by those rice farmers is in the brainstorming process that drives my original social networking growth system. But the Marketing Mantra actually reflects pre-industrial community dynamics more than any particular cultural perspective.

Post-war Japanese companies managed extraordinary growth by transforming ancient cultural imperatives into corporate core values. Later, many Western experts made a living by translating those values into Western terms and contexts, so they could apply at least superficially to our workplaces.

How ironic it would be if Toyota’s stupendous growth has undermined its future, by forcing the company to abandon still powerful rice-grower values in favor of industrial processes now being challenged by many Western technocrats.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Carey Giudici
Betterwords for Business
Carey has a unique, high-energy approach to help small business owners, entrepreneurs and in-transition professionals make their Brand and content achieve superior results in the social media. He calls it "Ka-Ching Coaching" because the bottom line is always . . . your bottom line. He has developed marketing and training material for a Fortune 5 international corporation, a large public utility, the Embassy of Japan, the University of Washington, and many small businesses and entrepreneurs.


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