Things They Say at Toyota: Being Busy is Shameful

Being busy is shameful. What an odd thought. It goes against the workaholic nature of most Americans and our Puritan work ethic. I can’t recall exactly where I heard this but it was definitely from one of my sensei who came from the Toyota group. The idea may very well have come from Taiichi Ohno.
I don’t completely understand “being busy is shameful”. It requires further deep reflection. But it feels true. Why should I be busy? Being fully employed is great but being busy implies having somewhat more things to do than one has time to do them. This is not a good situation. It is a sign of mura (Japanese for variation) and it results in muri (overexertion, overburden) and it creates muda (waste).
Toyota is very busy these days, building plants or announcing the building of plants, making more cars than ever. Yet haste makes waste and their recalls are climbing and senior board members at Toyota are expressing concern at what Toyota is becoming. The idea that “being busy is shameful” rests, I think, on the kaizen philosophy that you should be well-prepared so that you can act quickly and decisively when the moment comes, rather than running around, furiously busy, trying to react.
If preparations are thorough and execution is fast and precise, there is no need to hurry. There is no need to feel busy. You are ready. Take your time, think it through, consider several options and try them out. Then seize the opportunity.
It’s RFP season these days at Gemba. Businesses are looking at the new year, new budgets, and suddenly there is renewed need around the world for kaizen and Lean manufacturing consulting. Phones ring. E-mails arrive. The RFP mill churns faster. Our business, like most others, needs heijunka. These days I live in shame.