Toyota’s Fujio Cho: Act. Improve. Repeat.
This was in a magazine that hit my mailbox yesterday, an interview with Toyota's CEO. The company was named “Smartest Company of 2004” by the magazine. If you click on the link, there are some related articles about Toyota functions — marketing, a new Lexus factory in Canada, etc.
I think it's interesting that he doesn't think they're so much “smart” as much as they “get their hands dirty” and keep trying solutions (kaizen). He also reiterates the point that companies don't succeed by copying Toyota tools — it's all about encouraging people to think and eliminate waste.
Some people think that if they just implement our techniques, they can be as successful as we are. But those that try often fail. That's because no mere process can turn a poor performer into a star. Rather, you have to address employees' fundamental way of thinking.
At Toyota we start with two questions: “Where are we wasting resources like time, people, or material?” and “How can we be less wasteful?” Take conveyor belts. Some manufacturers use them to move a product from worker to worker on an assembly line. But belts can actually waste time because workers have to take the product off the belt at each manufacturing step. It's faster to keep the component stationary and have workers approach it as necessary.
The Toyota we know today is the result of challenging ourselves to get rid of waste for more than 40 years.