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A Powerful Message from Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda: No Best, Only Better

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A number of people shared this message from Akio Toyoda that was posted online:

Making Ever-better Cars and Human Resource Development: The Forces That Power Sustainable Growth

Toyoda starts by emphasizing a lesson that the company learned in the financial crisis:

“…rapid growth, if not built on a solid foundation, can ultimately fail to serve the interests of stakeholders when it leads to rapid downturn.”

Instead of blaming the economic climate or political circumstances, Toyoda takes ownership of his responsibility to navigate such waters so Toyota can be successful “in any environment.”


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Many times in the past year, I've heard hospital leaders complain about “uncertainty in Washington D.C.,” using the uncertainty around possible ACA repeal or other potential changes as a reason to not invest in building capabilities around Lean and Kaizen. As if things are likely to ever become LESS uncertain in D.C.? We have Congressional elections every two years. Instead of conserving and holding on to cash, maybe these hospitals should learn how to get more agile and nimble in these uncertain environments? If this isn't a good time to build a culture of continuous improvement, then when?

What does Toyoda mean by competitiveness?

“By competitiveness, I do not refer only to quantifiable things, like costs and productivity. It is crucial that we improve the intangibles that make us competitive, by, for example, developing human resources who are passionate about making ever-better cars and making the world a better place and who work to make constant improvements based on Genchi Genbutsu (onsite, hands-on experience).”

It reminds me of what Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who was deeply influential at Toyota, said:

“It is wrong to suppose that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it – a costly myth.”

Deming often gets misquoted out of context as saying just “if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.”

Deming also said:

“The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable.”

Can you measure “passion?” Can Toyota measure how the company is “making the world a better place?”

In his message, Toyoda encourages employees:

“… don't rely solely on data. I want you to take what you felt with your own senses, take the true essence of things, and use it to make ever-better cars.”

Toyoda writes about a process of driving the actual roads, observing customers, understanding their situations and needs – a great lesson for any leader in any business. It reminds me of the “Lean Startup” admonition to “get out of the office” to go understand a day in the life of your customers and the problems they are trying to solve.

“The road teaches the people, and the people make the cars.”

Toyoda talks about the need for a “start-up mindset” in an 80 year old company. That's not surprising considering how Toyota has learned from Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement, as discussed in the book The Startup Way.

Video: Toyota Uses “#LeanStartup” Methods to Develop a New Product

Podcast #290 – @EricRies: From #Lean to #LeanStartup to #TheStartupWay

Toyoda said:

“Today, we are faced with a number of new rivals. We share with them the start-up mindset of wanting to make the world a better place.”

Those new rivals include Tesla, a company that, if you believe recent news reports, is NOT much of a competitor when it comes to building in quality.

Toyoda ends his message with a few things he believes (and we've done a similar exercise to share our beliefs at KaiNexus):

What We @KaiNexus (and Our Customers) Believe About People & Improvement

Toyoda says:

  • “I believe growth must be sustainable.
  • I believe if you do the right thing, the money will follow.
  • I believe we have to earn our customers' smiles every day and exceed their expectations.
  • I believe there is no “best,” only “better.”
  • I believe we are a company of dedicated, passionate people that can accomplish anything.
  • And, I believe Toyota will continue to constantly strive to improve the lives of customers and society as a whole.”

That's the core message of Kaizen and continuous improvement, the way Toyota strives for perfection: there is no best, only better.

I believe there is no 'best,' only 'better.' - Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda Click To Tweet

That's another powerful message for startups, big companies, or health systems alike.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is an anthology titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus. His next book, to be released in 2018, is Measures of Success.

4 Comments
  1. Mark Graban says

    LinkedIn Comment(s):

    Andre DeMerchant
    President, DeMerchant Healthcare Solutions Inc.
    The comment about uncertainty resonates with me as it has such a paralyzing effect. On a business trip 3 weeks ago I sat beside an ED physician leader from a facility on the U.S. west coast and we discussed the current state of healthcare in that country. The plan that his organization had for facing the uncertain future: do nothing until the future becomes clear. Now, this wasn’t a small hospital, he was from a large, well-respected organization…….and the likelihood that waiting to do anything until the path forward was clear would then be way too late to do anything meaningful had never entered his (their) mind.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks for the comment, Andre DeMerchant. Yep, that sounds like the dynamic I’m hearing. “Do nothing until the future becomes clear.”

      Doing nothing is arguably not the rational thing to do. But, it’s understandable in the context of the “fight or flight” response that kicks in when individuals are scared. The same thing seems to happen at an organizational level, which probably isn’t surprising since organizations are collections of individuals.

      But, what if that organization had a brave, articulate leader who could try to help others see that they should own and create their future instead of being passive victims of it?

      1. Mark Graban says

        Andre’s reply:

        Yes, that is it exactly: shape the future or live the future that is thrust upon you. One thing missing is the lack of urgency……..in my experience leaders often don’t realize that the closer you get to the exact time that a change in your business is taking place, the fewer options you have to react to an manage that change. For example: financial insecurity can be managed by methodical waste removal—which takes time and preserves process integrity—or it can be managed by last minute FTE layoffs, which solves the problem only for the moment, leaves the waste in place and generates unsupported processes. As a leader, what type of legacy do YOU want to leave?

  2. Mark Graban says

    It’s tempting to roll one’s eyes at a re-org as a means for cost cutting, but I like what the Scripps CEO says here about creating their future:

    it’s clear we will need to change proactively or we will certainly have to change down the road reactively,” said Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health. “We choose to be proactive.”

    See this article

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