The headline says it all. According to the the article, Toyota
passed Chrysler as the number three auto seller in the US
last year and is on target to pass number two Ford this year.
Much has been said about the difference in management styles
between the US and Japan. For example, in the US, we applaud the long
touch down pass that in one moment, can drastically change the entire
game. The Japanese make a thousand elegant folds in a small piece of
paper. In the US, it’s the Lone Ranger standing against the
forces of evil. For the Japanese, it’s the team that moves
the organization forward, not the individual.
But little did I know the magnitude of the difference!
According to Matthew E. May, author of “Elegant
Solutions: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation” and his free
PDF manifesto based on the book, Toyota implements one million
new ideas per year. Note, I said implements one
million new ideas per year. Not that they come up with one million new
ideas, which would be an amazing feat in itself. No, they implement one
million new ideas a year.
Clearly, the great majority of the ideas are probably
incremental. That is, each makes a small, but measurable movement
towards a better Toyota. But the sheer weight of so many ideas, all
moving the company forward, can create an ever increasing avalanche
that smothers all who stand before it.
My understanding of May goes something like this.
Selling products is not about the product itself. Rather, it’s about
the solution to a problem that we value. That is, I may want “safe
sanctuary and quiet escape.” The solution to this problem may be a
Lexus. I may want status. The solution to this problem, in
1930 anyway, was Cadillac. The point is, find out what
the customer’s problem is and provide an elegant solution.
According to May, the way to do this is to focus on creating a
system in which every employee is trying to find ways of making
something better than it was before. If nothing else,
this captures the essence of Toyota. He further breaks it down
into three principles: ingenuity in craft, pursuit of perfection, fit
Its been said before but for Toyota it is true, the big
innovation is made of up a million tiny steps, not the single large leap.