Are We Cowboys or Not?
Prof. Jeffrey Liker keynoted a Lean event in Oklahoma and is quoted as saying:
Maybe the cowboy and the samurai best illustrate the chasm between Eastern and Western corporate cultures, author Jeffrey Liker offered Thursday during the Southwestern Lean Conference.
The cowboy is identified as an iconoclast, the epitome of self reliance and going his own road, he said, while the samurai is all about serving the boss and working as part of the team.
“They’re pretty different,” Liker, author of the “The Toyota Way” and other books about the company, said of the contrasting cultural views. “This is a big challenge for the West.”
What do you think about that? Are we incurable “cowboys” (and cowgirls) here in the West?
Last month, I wrote about some provocative words from Norman Bodek. Bodek says the “cowboy” thing is a myth perpetuated by management to keep employees from working together.
Anyway, I’m not trying to start a “Liker v Bodek” battle, but it’s an interesting contrast in perspectives.
Liker made some other excellent points:
“When you have a quality problem, it’s almost always a management problem,” Liker said.
This is true in factories or hospitals. Rather than blaming individuals, we have to look at the system and the processes that could have led to the error. Good reactions include error proofing, not just blaming or punishing people.
He also talked about leadership, again contrasting East v. West:
Managers under the lean manufacturing system must constantly adapt to change and need time to quietly analyze problems before choosing paths. Toyota also provides management mentors who guide their proteges directly for years at a time.
Managers who buy into the Toyota way understand the Western and Eastern contrasts more clearly and are able to bridge the two sides, Liker noted. For instance, the Western view sees the world as logical and even tamable, while the East believes the world is still partially concealed, threatening and something that forces personal adaptation.
What are your thoughts and experiences with this? Toyota is able to train Western managers and workers to work under their model and system… is this East v. West? Or is it like Dr. Deming said, “people will work under any system…”?
I’m by no means an expert on Japanese or Eastern culture… I do realize there are differences, but does talking about the differences give people in the West an excuse to say “we’re not Japanese, so we can’t do this”??
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