Reasons Why Lean Wouldn’t Always Be Easier Just Because You’re in Japan


Facebook is reminding me that it was four years ago this week that I made my initial study trip to Japan with Kaizen Institute… and my return trip was two years ago this week. I'd love to go back in 2017.

I have so many great memories from those trips and I learned a lot.

One thing I learned and wrote about was the idea that “Toyota Culture” or “Lean Culture” are not exactly the same thing as “Japanese Culture” – in terms of national culture or the typical organizational culture in a Japanese business.

Katie Anderson, who I interviewed in my Podcast series, recently wrote an article for Planet Lean with her reflections from actually getting to live in Japan:


As her article starts:

“The main theme that has emerged from my reflection is that Japanese culture does not equal Toyota culture. What we call “lean” is not inherently easy for the Japanese and there are cultural traits that both enable and inhibit the adoption of principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS).”

I also recommend her other blog posts with stories and reflections of what she learned from the perspective of an American who has been practicing Lean in healthcare.

Here is my podcast with her… and we're doing another one in December with more of her reflections now that she's home in California.

Podcast #233 – Katie Anderson, A Lean Thinker Living in Japan

Here is one of my articles on this theme of Lean and the practice of “pulling the andon cord” might not be an easy or natural thing to occur in a Japanese workplace culture. Toyota has had to work hard to create their own culture – one that translates well into North America and other regions where they do business.

Andon Cords at the Toyota Takaota Plant – It Doesn't Come Naturally?

For other posts I've written about Japan, click here or below:


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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.


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