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Ohno's Untaught Sutras

This the fourth and final part 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.

In the beginning of chapter 18 Principle 12 of "The Toyota Way" Jeffrey Liker introduces the concept of the Ohno Circle. For those of you who are unfamiliar, famous TPS founder/practitioner Taiichi Ohno would train his employees/students by drawing a circle on the ground near the production line and have the student stand there for 8 hours to observe a process without feedback. Once it is suppertime the student is simply asked to go home.

Image 1: hehe... losers*

This sounds absolutely absurd outside of the context of Asian cultures because this behavior draws heavily from Buddhist pedagogy .

"A boy living near a Buddhist temple can learn an untaught sutra by heart."

The boy living near the buddhist temple is a Japanese proverb I like to whip out when talking about Buddhist pedagogy. It embodies how many Japanese (and Asians) perceive not necessarily learning but mastery. It is the idea that deeply internalized learning and mastery come from passive and repetitive actions over a long period of time. This is starkly contrasted by western concepts of "learn by doing" or western stereotypes of geniuses being able to pick up concepts with no practice.

Obviously, there are merits to both systems:

-If someone understands a concept if explicitly told, there is no point in dragging it out in a cloud of nebulous exercises.

-Mastery is almost entirely dependent on discipline as well as insight and there is no "teaching" this.

Just two examples of an almost an endless list of reasons for one over the other. However,

Taiichi Ohno chose this methodology because of his inner promptings of Buddhist pedagogy.

Image 2: Lots of Buddhism everywhere

This goes along with my belief that methodologies and practices in organizations are informed by the culture that they exist within. What People Miss About Problem Solving and Culture

Breakthrough in The Toyota Way

Perhaps in an exclusive instance Liker flirts with the concept that TPS practices are intrinsically linked with Japanese culture in the section "The Way of Genchi Genbutsu Is Ingrained in a Country's Culture" and points to a study done at the University of Michigan by Richard E. Nisbett. The study suggests that background information was retained more readily by Japanese students than by Americans. Liker doesn't go into very much depth on why this this is the case and pulls away after stating that perhaps it may be fundamentally more difficult for Westerners to emulate Genchi Genbutsu. I find this perhaps the most disappointing part of the book. Not in what he suggests but by what he was on the verge of discussing but doesn't.

Gif 1: Me

In summary, this read of "The Toyota Way" has made me realize there is a tremendous amount of content in this book with a lot of nuance. Significantly more than what I could possibly cover in the 4 blog posts I planned at the beginning. Secondly, while the book is not "just a list of tools" it is "just a list of ideologies". It does explain the purpose of the ideologies but doesn't go into they WHY other than the mythos of the founders of TPS. It largely ignores that the Toyota Way is a subculture that is the result of a larger network of beliefs. However, I still discover more between the pages or within myself every time I read it and will set it aside to read again next year.

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*tongue in cheek, also I don't have rights to this image, I got it from

#OhnoCircle #TPS #ToyotaProductionSystem #TaiichiOhno #Buddhism #BuddhistPedagogy

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