Some time ago a woman who was studying Taoism and also reading Taiichi Ohno said, “The more I read Taiichi Ohno’s book The Toyota Production System-Beyond Large-Scale Production, the more I believe that his philosophies are based in the teaching of Tao Te Ching.”
Ever curious about things that flow, I did some research into the Tao. The Tao Te Ching is a text that is more than 2,000 years old. It is the foundation of the Taoist school of Chinese philosophy. Tao means “way” and the title of this book translates as “The Book of the Way and (its) Virtue”.
Even without opening a copy of Ohno’s book, the parallels found in Taoist philosophy and the Toyota Production System philosophy were striking.
Respect for People – TPS
If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy – Tao Te Ching
Prevention rather than correction – TPS
He who excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise. – Tu Mu, a commentator on the Art of War, a Taoist classic
The leader as a teacher – TPS
The Master does not talk, he acts. When his work is done the people say, “Amazing! We did it all by ourselves!”
– Tao Te Ching
In Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management he talks about the “game of wits” with subordinates. This involves developing the minds of people by giving them difficult challenges, and thinking about the problem yourself so that you can give advice to the subordinate as they struggle. Ohno said to give full credit for the solution to the subordinates (student).
Harmony between man and machine / corporation and society – TPS
The Tao stresses harmony and flow and recommends a minimalist approach to leadership, whether it be as a king or a manager. There is a very Lean thought that runs throughout Taoism which says that the more one acts in harmony with the universe, the more one will achieve with less effort.
Pull, don’t push / avoid muri – TPS
Related to the harmony theme above, Taoism teaches that the harder one tries, the more resistance one creates for oneself, and the harder things become. We in the West might say “go with the flow”.
Humility as leaders – TPS
The Taoist ideal of a doctor is one who has no reputation as a healer because the area or community they serve is disease-free. This can be extended to the ideal TPS (Lean) manager who appears to do nothing because he has prevented problems rather than acting heroically to solve them.
Making things starts with making people – TPS
Taoist master Lao Tzu has been credited with the quote:
Give a person a fish, and you have fed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you have fed them for a lifetime.
Follow rules and principles / back to basics – TPS
The Tao teaches that when we stray from the fundamentals, we replace them with increasingly inferior ones and we deceive ourselves that these are the true values. This idea may not be unique to Taoist philosophy, but it is unique to find people who actually follow this thought.
On your next gemba walk, remind each other what happens when you stray from the fundamentals, and consider taking the 2,000 year old advice about going back to basics.