Words of Taiichi Ohno Sensei, Part 4: It’s a Race to Get People to Think

I came across a new quote from Taiichi Ohno recently. It was in Japanese, and may not be new to the world, but I can’t recall seeing it in English before. I think it nicely captures the idea of kaizen and respect for people, which are at the heart of the Toyota Production System.
“I think it ruins people when there is no race to get each person to add their good ideas to the work they do within a company. Your improvements make the job easier for you, and this gives you time to make further improvements. Unlike in the [Charlie] Chaplin movie where people are treated as parts of a machine, the ability to add your creative ideas and changes to your own work is what makes it possible to do work that is worthy of humans.”
This is from the book ズバリ現場のムダどり事典 ― トヨタ生産方式の実践哲学 (Encyclopedia of Shop Floor Waste Elimination – The Practical Philosophy of the Toyota Production System) by Hitoshi Yamada, a former journalist who knew Taiichi Ohno. Yamada now is an author with a successful consulting practice mimicking the message and demanding style of his teacher. For what it’s worth, here is the original Japanese:
企業内でも同様であって,一人ひとりの仕事に,いかに知恵をつけさせるかの競争がないと,その人自身をダメにしてしまうのではないか.工夫の中から,自分で仕事に余裕を持つ,そして,また工夫する.人間を,機械の一部のようにとらえた,あのチャップリンの映画と異なって,「自分で,自分の仕事に創意と工夫を加える」,そこに人間らしい仕事ができるのです.
The race or competition to get each person to add their good ideas (いかに知恵をつけさせるかの競争) is not a race between workers for good kaizen suggestions, it is a race with the managers and their workers on one side and the competitive forces in the world on the other side. It is a competition about how quickly you can get each person to use their minds creatively to improve their work. It’s a race to get people to think.
Ohno is making a powerful statement here that if you do not challenge people to use their minds and improve their work, you are dehumanizing them. No wonder he was famous for yelling at managers who were slow to change.

3 Comments

  1. Barry

    January 14, 2007 - 5:46 am

    Jon,
    Maybe after the Workplace Management translation, you could create a “Sayings of Taiichi Ono” book. Something like this already exists for Shigeo Shingo.
    There must be more sayings of Onosan in Japanese that do not have wide circulation in English.
    Thank you for brining this one to us.

  2. timo marwig

    February 1, 2007 - 3:51 pm

    hi there,
    I have a problem. I am looking for a quote by Ohno, in simplest terms:
    no standardization, no kaizen
    I am looking for a location, an article, a book or something similar, that I can quote from. Can you help?
    thanks
    timo

  3. Jon Miller

    February 1, 2007 - 6:18 pm

    Hello Timo,
    The quote you are looking for is “Where there is not standard, the can be no kaizen.”
    It is 標準のないところに改善はない in Japanese.
    It is attributed to Taiichi Ohno but I do not know if this was written down in any of his books.
    Jon