Inventor-itis, Not Inventory-itis


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Amazon Link: Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation

When I first read this headline, I misread it, thinking it was about the “fear of inventory” (something that seems like a Lean concept… not being sure how being afraid of inventory would kill innovation).

Turns out, the book's concept is that some companies fall in love with their products (the way an inventor might tend to do). This love for their product (or pride in their own inventing ability) can blind them to the market or to feedback – they cannot see the need for improvement. Interesting concept, but this portion stood out:

“Q: How does the Toyota Production System weed out Inventoritis?

A: Toyota's system is a consistent set of processes and principles applied over a long period of time. These ‘lean' methods serve to reduce inventoritis and its downsides.

One aspect of the Toyota Production System is the idea of eliminating and not just reducing waste. In the traditional U.S. manufacturing system, the production line has slack built into it so that there is extra time and production line materials and resources available to ensure that the line stays running. In the Toyota system, there generally is not. There is obviously little or no tolerance for the waste that comes from people infected with inventoritis being able to influence the innovation process.

Toyota also has a very good knowledge management system. There are systems at the company for constructively gathering feedback from anyone and everyone throughout the organization, processing the information and applying it to the manufacturing process. Part of this stems from Toyota's deep respect for its people, one of the main pillars of the Toyota Production System.”

I'm having trouble seeing the connection between what sounds like “inventory”-itis” in that second paragraph and the topic of the book. I think their main point about Toyota is that they have effective mechanisms for getting feedback from EVERYONE in the organization, not just executives. So maybe the idea is that Toyota is not in love with their production system in a way that blinds them to opportunities to improve?

One other quote from the author was interesting – he says you should “assume your product or idea is terrible.” Toyota is often their own worst critic. Internally, the embrace the open discussion of ideas and problems, which is the first stage in problem solving and improvement. Most companies have a culture where problems are hidden and discussion is suppressed — since making problems visible doesn't fit with their view that the company must be “perfect.”

How do you interpret that article or the ties to Toyota and its production system or Lean?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Interesting article.
    I would hope that the book makes the case better, but the interview really doesn’t tie Toyota into this concept very well. Toyota succeeds at avoiding “inventor-itis” in two ways. First, they focus on adding value from the perspective of the customer. As the article you linked says, that means doing more up-front assessing of the customer’s needs and less fauning over your own engineering prowess.
    Second, Toyota has a continuous improvement culture where the inventors are never satified with what they have already done. The engineers are taught never to be satisfied with their past accomplishments.

  2. The key is not believing your own hype and creating a culture that is constantly challenging your relevance in the marketplace. By the way, feel free to download a copy of our book from our site. We look forward to your feedback :)


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