The Toyota Dilemma

Over the past weeks we have been following threads that come from several questions that Greg and I have been asking. Our questions are like this:

  1. How come people keep trying and failing to copy what Toyota has done?
  2. Is Toyota really that good? Or does the spotty record of wanna-be copiers indicative of a half-baked theory? Does it work in Japan, but not here?
  3. How disastrously bad is their competition in the automobile industry? Is that why they are taking over the #1 spot globally, and winning so handily?
  4. What are people in the automobile industry watching that they keep (apparently) missing the beef? We think that they are not stupid people; then then they must be trapped in a really bad story about how the world works, and must be misunderstanding what Toyota has been doing.

One of the conversations that Greg and I have says that we are playing out different stories. We fell in love with cars in different ways than did the Japanese. Their national story about extraordinary human beings has in its background the Samurai tradition – in which, among other things, people surrender to disciplines and traditions, and build excellence out of time and practice. In the US, we fell in love with cars as part of our exploration of the dimensions of freedom. It is still a rite of initiation in this country for a young person to reach the age of 16, be licensed, and move towards owning a car. This is a nation of people who escaped from other tribes and refused to be dominated. Kind of the opposite of Toyota. We think, however, that it is possible to build a version of the Toyota Production System that fits with our impatient, freedom-loving, entrepreneurial and strongly independent way of being.

What do you think?

What do our questions provoke for you?