Challenge, Kaizen, Genchi Genbutsu, Respect, Teamwork

Challenge, kaizen, genchi genbutsu, respect, and teamwork. These are the five ideas that were codified as the fundamental principles that guide the actions of Toyota people in the “Toyota Way 2001”. We might call them “values” as in “mission, vision, values” that most organizations will have posted in the lobby of their company.
What is interesting about Toyota’s set of values is that they were written down so late. More than half a century after Toyota began making automobiles in earnest, in fact. These were “understood” implicitly for decades, perhaps because the majority of manufacturing sites were around the Mikawa area of Japan. As Toyota globalized, it became necessary to make these values more explicit.
Kaizen, genchi genbutsu, respect for people and teamwork are much written about. The idea of challenge is worth reflecting on. Challenge is the pursuit of a dream, an ideal, or a vision. The spirit of challenge is often paired with creativity and courage. Together these three Cs guide people who follow the Toyota way to dream bigger, and not be satisfied with the current condition.
The word “courage” gives one a lot to think about. It reminds me of the words of Henry Ford (teacher to Toyota):
If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
Read that a few times if the meaning doesn’t jump right out at first glance.
Another important part of the principle of challenge for Toyota is their long-term thinking and dedication to creating value through their work, which is manufacturing. If your organization does not make anything, it is equally important to think long-term and ask, with courage, “What would we dream of leaving behind?” and work towards this challenge.
It takes courage indeed to ask these questions, face the facts and come to a deep understanding of how to find purpose in work, as individuals and as an organization. Although it is the least spoken of the five principles of challenge, kaizen, genchi genbutsu, respect, and teamwork that make up the Toyota Way 2001 values, “challenge” may be the most difficult. The way of challenge is a challenge indeed.