The Toyota Way: Cultivate Evolution


In this eleventh chapter of David Magee’s book “How Toyota Became #1:  Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company”, he tackles the subject of kaizen, or continuous improvement.    This applies not just to processes, but to principles.    If conditions change, then adapting to those conditions will necessarily require flexibility and change.    One of the most misnamed epithets for evolution is “survival of the fittest“, whereas a better term would be “survival of the fitting.” An organism which is fittest in one environment will get wiped out if the environment changes and it does not.   Only the organism which adapts to the new environment will have a change of surviving.

This can be illustrated by the arrival in the U.S. of Toyota’s first manufacturing facility, a joint venture with GM called NUMMI which started production in 1984.    In order to blend in with the more informal environment that the American workers came from, the managers from Toyota abandoned suits and ties in wore a standard company uniform.   The aim was to avoid autocratic leadership, and reduce the distance between management and the workers in order to create the maximum opportunity for communication between them.   Some of the common practices that were done in Japan such as morning calisthenics were dropped because they were alien to the American plant workers who weren’t used to them.

By reducing the psychological distance between management and workers, Toyota, although its values remain deeply rooted in traditions, is able to cultivate its corporate evolution in order to develop a system that empowers employees and allows them to work  more harmoniously with management.   The philosophy is that management approaches their positions more as teachers than as managers.

1.  View Change as an Opportunity to Learn

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