Taiichi Ohno

The Value of Figuring It Out for Yourself

By Jon Miller Published on March 27th, 2007

There is a curious mention of Nissan purchasing an American automobile factory before World War II and moving it to Japan in chapter 21 of Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management:
Before the war Nissan had purchased an American factory and moved it all over to Japan, and there were even engineers from overseas who came along. So in that sense, Nissan must have been much more advanced than Toyota.
Nissan got a head start on Toyota by moving an American factory with American engineering know-how, to Japan. Toyota didn’t have the money so they had to figure it out for themselves.
Doing some research on on Taiichi Ohno recently, I came across a passage from an interview with Ohno where he names the factory that Nissan purchased. It was a Graham-Paige factory. Unless you are a classic car buff, Graham-Paige may not ring a bell. It took me some Google work to find out more about them. This Wikipedia entry has an interesting summary of Graham-Paige history with some nice photos of their cars. No mention of their factory being sold to Nissan though.
Chapter 21 is titled “Rationalization is Doing What is Rational” and the theme of the chapter is that when something has been thoroughly kaizened, or rationalized, it appears as nothing special. If you see a factory that makes you think “Wow!” then that is probably a bad factory. Being thorough with the most humble, obvious, seemingly common sense things is the sign of a rationalized factory.
General Motors is pondering the purchase of Chrysler. Seriously? It is “rationalization” in a sense, but is this rational? What do they hope to gain other than market share? What do they hope to learn? Is that question even being asked?
In the short term, grabbing market share by buying a competitor may seem like a good idea. If a leader is rewarded on short-term performance, that is what a leader may do. In the long term, figuring out for yourself how to do it better than the competition is a better idea. The Toyota way is based on long-term thinking. That may be the hardest lesson to learn of all for our leaders to learn.

  1. Johan van Setten

    March 27, 2007 - 11:59 pm

    I was wondering what your phrase (“In the long term, figuring out for yourself how to do it better than the competition is a better idea.”) means for making my own company long term competitive.
    Do you mean with this that long lasting competitive advantage can best created by mastering the theory of TPS thoroughly by studying books like: ‘Workplace Management’ and ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production’, attending lectures, etc. and implement TPS without the use of books like; ‘The Toyota Way Fieldbook’ and ‘The Lean Manufacturing Pocket Handbook’, consultants and/or trainers?

  2. Jon Miller

    March 28, 2007 - 12:31 am

    Hello Johan,
    Internal development of products, technology and processes will have a superior outcome long-term to simply buying solutions from a catalog, or in extreme case buying an entire factory like Graham-Paige or an entire business like Chrysler.
    Use the best available production systems, machines and methods, but don’t stop there. If we assume that our competitors have access to the same machines, tools, books, lectures, consultants, etc. then we have to learn from these and develop them a step further.
    You know your own business best, so learn everything you can from others, but long term competitiveness you need to figure it out for yourself.
    The danger with inviting in experts of any kind to “figure out” a solution for the short term is that this may not teach you how to “figure out” the solution to the challenges of the next decade after your experts have moved on.

  3. Chris Nicholls

    March 28, 2007 - 12:58 am

    Hi Jon
    Thanks for the story linking Ohno’s book with current and past events. I have always felt that by doing it for yourself and improving through trial and error or experimentation are the best ways to learn and build-in know how. It works for me anyway.
    Making improvements this way can take longer than getting an expert in to do it for you or buying the knowledge through acquisition. I strongly believe when you work it out by yourself you are more likely to continue this kaizen process and teach others. In my mind this is long term thinking and the first step on the road to long lasting process of continuous improvement.
    I came to lean ways of thinking in reverse, first I tried it myself practicing lean by observation and copying others’ best practice. I found out about the theory & TPS much later.

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