Podcast #304 – David Meier, Lessons and Wisdom from Toyota


Back on the podcast for the fifth time is my friend David Meier, a Lean / TPS consultant who is a former Toyota leader at their plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. He's gotten into what's, perhaps, the most Kentucky of industries… distilling bourbon (and more).

You can also listen to another, much longer episode where David and I talk about bourbon, whiskey, and continuous improvement for almost 90 minutes total there.

Today is a shorter episode, where we catch up and hear more about what David has been doing since his last podcast appearance in 2010 when we talked about the challenges Toyota was facing then. In this episode, David drops a lot of knowledge and wisdom in a very short time — thoughts on problem solving and how Lean thinking isn't easy for anybody, even if you're Japanese.

He's co-author, with Jeff Liker, of the books The Toyota Way Fieldbook and Toyota Talent.

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For a link to this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/304.

Follow Up Podcast:

Past Appearances:

Topics and Links for this Episode:

  • He was part of the startup crew for the Toyota Georgetown Plant in 1987
  • Started working as a consultant in 1997
  • The podcast with the superintendent who started with David's book
  • At Toyota, you learn by doing…
  • He's been trying to focus more on teaching people problem solving… why are the same types of challenges occurring just about everywhere? How were Toyota practices different? They weren't perfect, but they were better at it. “A different way of being.”
  • Problems: Jumping to conclusions, bias for action… the same patterns and behaviors regardless of country and culture
  • What are the common causes of these common problems? Are there common “corrective actions” that can be taken?
  • Common problem: Defining the answer in the problem statement… “we lack a computer system.” A computer system is a solution… not a good problem statement.
  • Toyota says to pay attention to every detail, but people want to get busy instead of studying the problem more.
  • Americans say “Fire, ready, aim” and Japanese tend to say “Ready, ready, ready, ready…” They take more time, but succeed more.
  • “This isn't the Japanese way… it's the Toyota Way.”
  • Lean isn't easy if you're Japanese. We're all wired the same way and have similar patterns and cognitive biases that we have to work against.
  • He still jumps to solutions, but has learned to not let it come out of his mouth :-)
  • Seeing that an operation can be better isn't hard. Leading others to discover what better means is more difficult.
  • “It was a big turning point in my career when I stopped telling people what was wrong and what they needed to do to fix it.”
  • The Toyota people wouldn't give him answers. But do clients get impatient and want answers given to them?
  • “What's the situation? Are you literally in crisis or is this a long-term situation that doesn't have to be fixed this week?”
    • Toyota would be directive in a crisis mode… that's not about people development.
    • They'd revert back to the other approach that focuses on developing people and the long term
    • If that problem has been there for a year, you've survived this long, it must not be a crisis. A true crisis is relatively rare.
    • Tell me how fast you need to get there and I'll give you the strategy for how to get there.
    • “How much? By when? Let's clarify that first.” Clarify the timeline up front.
    • With a kaizen event, you can get a lot done quickly, but people development suffers
    • I learned from Toyota there's not a single way that fits all scenarios
  • There's no “right” answer or “perfect solution,” just choices.
  • His Toyota coaches would want to understand the thought process. Did you have a thought process that delivered a desirable result or did you get lucky?

David's Books:

More Info:

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS, through Android apps, or via Apple Podcasts.  You can also subscribe and listen via Stitcher. Please leave us a review and rating!

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  1. Mark Welch says

    I really enjoyed this podcast. David hits on some of the most fundamental mistakes we make in problem-solving, which the heart of what we do as Lean practitioners – solve problems that matter to stakeholders. I was fortunate to be a part of one of the 2009 U. of Michigan Lean Healthcare Certificate sessions and David trained us on problem-solving in one of the sessions, and he offers more learnings he’s gained since then.

    Thanks for an excellent podcast, guys.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Glad you enjoyed the podcast. It’s great you had a chance to learn from David!

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