Kaizen Secrets of the Toyota Mind

There have been many books on the bestseller list with variations on the theme of “how to become a millionaire”. A fellow named T. Harv Eker rolled through Seattle a few years ago and gave a free seminar on the subject. It seemed like an interesting way to pass an evening so I spent 3 hours in a hotel ball room with about 150 people watching this man who told us the secrets of the millionaire mind with the energy of Robin Williams. This was several years before he refined his act, wrote his books, and hit the big time. Even so his act was entertaining and I learned a few things. These things did not make me a millionaire, but that is not T. Harv’s fault.
Last year I bought his book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind for a friend. This was an attempt to help them think more about managing their money. I’m not one to pry, but there seems to have been some change in my friend’s behavior regarding money. Now the book has found its way back to me.
Reading the first several pages of the introduction, I thought it would be interesting to ask “what are the secrets of the Toyota mind?” Much of what I write about on this blog has to do with this question of what is the thinking behind the Toyota Production System. I haven’t catalogued all of the secrets of the Toyota mind so this is not a comprehensive list. Many of them are found in the 10 Commandments of Improvement, which we made into a poster several years ago and now available online.
The Toyota mind asks “How can I improve by 10 times?” rather than “How can I improve by 10%?”
Cutting cost by 10% or even 50% is easy with focus, effort and the strategic application of Lean manufacturing principles. Cutting by 90% is the mindset needed to make you question all of your assumptions, take the customers’ viewpoint and think about long-term kaizen.
The Toyota mind focuses on changing the process rather than on changing the person.
The Toyota mind asks “Why?” until it finds the root cause, rather than solving the problem at the first opportunity.
This is harder to do than you think because it’s very tempting to solve the problem at the earliest available opportunity and get on with life. However, these fixes tend to be band-aids. Evidence-based, deeply considered plans can be quickly and effectively implemented once, rather than seat-of-the pants, instinct or belief-driven plans that result in a lot of wasted resources.
The Toyota mind seeks council from many other minds rather than a few expert minds.
This is related to the one above. You can get much more useful feedback on how to solve a problem when you have reduced the problem to its root causes. Kaizen succeeds when you ask a variety of people for fact-based countermeasures rather than the resident expert who may have fix for the wrong problem.
The Toyota mind asks “What does my customer want from this process?” rather than “What do I want from this process?”
The Toyota mind builds brilliant processes that enable average people to be high performers, rather than flawed processes that enable even brilliant people to be only average performers.
Developing processes and hiring average people may run counter to the Western culture. The whole idea of superstar celebrity executives and CEOs and the self-made man are part of the American dream. The problem with building a business around brilliant people is that it is not sustainable across the decades, without a process for hiring these people and eventually for developing them further upstream. The superstar CEO may save a few billion, write a book or two, retire, only to watch your legacy undone by the next contestant. The recent recasting in the media Jack Welch as a stifler on innovation at GE and the de-emphasis of the work he did at GE to establish a process-driven Six Sigma culture is but a recent example of this. On the other hand, how many Japanese superstar CEOs have you heard of? Why do you think this is?
The Toyota mind learns from both failed and successful actions.
They now say “beat Toyota” at Toyota. This is a good way to motivate yourself and avoid complacency when you’re the best manufacturer in the world. Even if you are not the best and can learn a lot by benchmarking externally and copying what others are doing successfully, you should learn from your own successes and failures. Even organizations that do a good job of learning from failures often do not ask “Why did we succeed?” and try to learn from this, for fear of exposing that the reason for success is luck, market forces beyond their control, or something else that will not support their superstar CEO image.
The Toyota mind does kaizen and thinks “Now things are the worst ever” rather than “Now things are better.”
T. Harv Eker writes in the introduction to his book “Don’t believe a word I say” and goes on to explain that he can only speak from experience and none of the concepts or insights in his book are inherently right or wrong, true or false. Likewise, don’t believe what I write here. I only write based on my experience of seeing what Toyota does and of learning from both the failures and successes of other companies trying to implement Lean manufacturing the Toyota way. Experiencing the kaizen results that come from Toyota minds has been amazing.
The Toyota mind is the source of what you see on the surface of Lean manufacturing. Try it for yourself. As T. Harv says “Whatever works, keep doing. Whatever doesn’t, you’re welcome to throw away.” Just be sure to learn from both your successes and failures.


  1. Devender P S

    July 21, 2006 - 10:44 pm

    The thinking process of a brilliant person barely matters when compared to the average person of toyota who sees the world from a different angle. this shows that there are simple things which can be viewed completely differently and which of at most important.

  2. John Santomer

    September 22, 2010 - 9:56 am

    Dear Jon,
    Going about this the Toyota Way will require digging in to the root cause why a suggestion box was used in the first place. Pending receipt of the findings on the root cause, we will be able to request others to pitch in and give their own suggestions on the subject.”Tatakidai”, “nemawashi” and all these things can be done to come up with a “kaizen” approach. When majority of the stake holders have agreed on this approach (strategy, if you will) then it’s time to roll-out the agreed steps addressing the situation. This should be done with a “gemba” on the locale where the approach will be rolled out before and after roll out. Documentation should be made to record the roll-out of the initiative and do adjustments if required. This will complete the PDCA cycle and will have sustainability if all the proper checks and adjustment measures are in place.
    In Haiti, it should not wait longer based from the grave situation. It just struck me – the calamity has claimed a lot of human lives. The person who took the initiative may not be qualified and thus sought answers through the suggestion box. For someone who is not aware of the Toyota Way and under such conditions – he or they may have thought of this as a means to tap on “What the customer/s want from this process?” (Although we can say it’s plain and simple- they have homed in on the right group) and at the same time – ”Seeking the counsel of many minds” and not just his own or within their group. It may not be a bad idea after all – even if it was clinically detached from all emotions. Immersed in heightened emotional stigma brought about by such a calamity – a clear mind and focused commitment is essential (although this is easier said than done under all the circumstances). After all, following a Toyota mind’s kaizen thinking – “Now things are worst than ever” ergo anything else is for the better. The search for root causes and the 5 Whys could yield a different finding, I may be wrong …But then all obstacles are kaizen opportunities.