Not All Japanese Have The Right Idea Like Toyota


Evolving Excellence Blog: : I Don't Speak Japanese

Another provocative post from Bill Waddell and the Evolving Excellence blog. I'd like to amplify his point that Japanese management guru Kenichi Ohmae was off base in his comments:

“Indians are not good at manufacturing. Even if they do what we tell them to do, they always need to understand why they are doing it that way. They are more inquisitive than the Chinese.”

Waddell commented: When asked if that isn't a good thing, he said that being inquisitive is good for management, but it is a problem on the shop floor. Apparently, the people in the factory need to shut up and do what they're told. I guess he thinks the Japanese boss is so obviously right all the time that having workers ask questions is a major distraction.

I don't think it's a matter of “Japanese” arrogance, as Bill is implying, as much as it is general management arrogance. Ohmae was with McKinsey, the famous management consulting firm, for a long time and probably has a bias that comes from being a “guru” and “expert.” Ohmae is not like Toyota executives, in his attitudes, or his background. If he were a Toyota executive, he would have come up through the ranks and would undoubtedly have a better respect for people on the shop floor.

In a lean setting, you need your people to be inquisitive and to take initiative. That's why I cringe when I read about China having the advantage of “subservient” workers. That might seem like a huge benefit to many arrogant executives who think they know best, whether they are Japanese, American, German, or whatever. Subservient workers does not equal lean! If you're outsourcing to China for that reason, you're not going to be any further down the lean path than you would be not listening to your workers in Indiana or some American factory.

I'd challenge everyone to “go lean” and get the most out of your American workers rather than “going cheap” and “going subservient.”

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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