This is part 2 of a larger series on "The Toyota Way" where I compare the culture of Toyota with the culture of Japan to see what about Toyota's culture is unique.
Mission Greater than a Paycheck
In Principle 1 of “The Toyota Way” Jeffrey Liker stresses the long term philosophy of Toyota and how those go beyond short-term economic gains. Liker talks about how all members of the Toyota team have a sense of societal purpose (even doing the right thing for the customer). I would like to present that looking beyond self-interest at societal obligations and purpose is fundamentally Japanese and draws from Buddhist and Confucian ideals.
Socialization of Japanese Children
I know it’s easy to say that Japanese people have an increased sense of societal obligation. Oh how very cultured of me. But wait! I’ve decided to provide evidence by briefly talking about how Japanese children are socialized.
In Japanese public schools students are responsible for tasks such as cleaning their own classrooms, hallways, preparing food and serving lunch to their peers. These tasks are done together in groups without exception. My argument is that these tasks among a long list of others instill strong values of social good and responsibility in Japanese children and subsequently the adults they turn into. Further, these responsibilities are purposefully part of the national curriculum because they are virtues held in high regard by the Japanese due to Buddhism and Confucianism.
Fig 1. Spoonfuls of societal obligation help the medicine go down
NUMMI isn't Japanese
Liker goes further in mentioning NUMMI (New United Manufacturing something or the other), a joint venture between GM and Toyota. Liker mentions that Toyota teaches Americans the "Toyota Way" out of a societal obligation (Liker's words). What's interesting to note is that the efforts of Toyota in this case isn't very Japanese. Interestingly, Japanese societal obligation usually only extends to Japanese people. While it is improving, Japanese culture remains to be particularly xenophobic. In the early 1980’s for a Japanese company to reach out to a non-Japanese company for societal good and deliver is quite unique.
The argument could also be made that Toyota gained more from the experience than GM. This is not discussed in the book.
Fig 2. NUMMI testing ground for Toyota
Right Process Right Results
Going on into Section II Liker talks about how Toyota believes that the right process will produce the right results and furthermore standardization. Again, this is a highly Japanese concept. Much of Japanese ideology comes from the concept of process. From Shintoism to Zen Buddhism art form, craft, prayer, and daily life are often governed by an emphasis on process and standardization.
I'd like to present two commonly known Japanese practices to highlight this concept. I will be pointing to the tea ceremony and sushi. I ask that you trust me that Japanese life is steeped with these examples.
The tea ceremony in Japan is a practice filled with ritual and process. It follows specific steps such as rotation of the tea cup and a count for the number of times each action is done.
Sushi from one chef to another varies in quality by each chef's perfection of the craft. More specifically, perfection of the process. Ingredients and process do not vary much from chef to chef as with other cuisine. Say for instance steak. With steak you can have different breeds of cow, different cuts, different aging process, different marinades/seasonings and different methods of cooking. Be it grilling, searing, broiling, sous vide, reverse sear, smoking etc. Then there are sauces. No sauce, A1, even among traditional french sauces there are a number of them. This variation doesn't exist in sushi. The traditional nigiri consists of, vinegared rice and raw fish. The nigiri is flavored with soy sauce and wasabi. That's it.
The majority of a sushi chef's training is in process. How to cook the rice. How to sharpen the knife. How to select fresh fish. And these processes are deeply internalized.
Fig. 3: Sushi
Both practices have ritualistic steps that do two things. They ensure the purity of the final product and the deeply internalized actions allow the practitioner to transcend consciousness. A memorized process allows a practitioner to focus on things beyond the actions themselves to subtleties that are not obvious.
The right results following the right process is a fundamental concept in Japanese artisan crafts and life. Liker discusses how standardization shows respect for the operator. I would like to further that point by saying that standardization shows respect for the worker because it is the way Japanese people view skilled crafts.
Section II goes at length discussing “pull-system”, “heijunka”, production leveling. I won't be discussing them in this context because those are details of TPS tools with little culture to unpack. In a sense, the tools can be argued to be uniquely Toyota.
There are three other topics covered in Section II that I'll address in an alternate post:
Quality as a principle
Only Reliable Tested Technology and swift implementation
What I'm finding from this read of "The Toyota Way" is not only how essentially Japanese many of Toyota's philosophies are but how Toyota's distinction comes from how they are able to leverage people's inner promptings.
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