OUR buzzword for today is not exactly popular in management circles, particularly in our dominion. When we are faced with problems, big or small, we solve it with the tool that is familiar and gives us an almost unparalleled success. When we get the flu, we take the pill that has healed us since practically time immemorial. When the company is losing money, the first thing on the list of things to do is organizational restructuring, even if it means losing some good people.
For many of us it’s the golden hammer, an over-reliance to a familiar tool even in the presence of a much better solution. As the psychologist Abraham Maslow of the “Hierarchy of Needs” fame put it succinctly: “If the only tool that you have is a hammer, you treat everything as a nail.”
That’s the how and the why for the people of Toyota who swear by the Toyota Production System (TPS) as the best tool on this planet.
In the same manner, who can argue against the many Christians who believe in the Holy Trinity?
Last week I was asked by a seminar participant that if TPS is one of the best tools on Earth, then why Toyota must do recalls over faulty vehicles . . . I’m not an apologist for the car maker and I don’t have any excuse on their behalf, except that even with those recalls kaizen experts and lean gurus the world over continue to swear by the efficacy of TPS.
Incidentally, as I was writing this piece, I received a promotional text from 2624 that says: “It’s not always the tears that measure the pain. Sometimes, it’s the smile we fake.”
Probably, the best reply to that question is this: How can you argue against a copycat, late-starter like Toyota that continues to beat other industry giants like GM, Ford, and Volkswagen?
More than that, the better query for the seminar participant is this: “If you don’t believe in TPS, then what’s your golden hammer?”
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I teach kaizen problem-solving to people who care to listen and pay for my consulting services. That’s where I emulate TPS, in part, at least when it comes to creating, nurturing, and maintaining an army of problem-solvers using only low-cost solutions.
That’s my golden hammer and I agree it has its own limitations. What I’m saying this: If kaizen is no longer practical or even outmoded, then it’s about time to think of innovation that will probably translate into spending money to buy expensive equipment, install new software, or even hire additional manpower that, in turn, can be a more difficult pill to swallow.
Wait… If you think kaizen is no longer possible, that means you’re not thinking hard enough.
Or if you think there’s no problem that means you’re part of the problem. Who says you can’t get water out of a dry towel?
I’m not sure how a person can argue against TPS or its generic kaizen equivalent that has turned full circle to become known as lean production for Western managers from the original concept of PDCA (plan, do, check, act) of Walter Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming? It’s a universal golden hammer that no one has the right to question, unless the concept is unclear to him.
With my kaizen-mindedness I often try to solve problems that I see every day even if most people don’t see them as “problems.”
Take the case of men’s public toilet. If there are five available urinal bowls, which one would you use̶the one near the door or the one farthest from the door? In my case, it’s the one farthest from the door. If you’re not thinking hard enough, we may profess the same choice and likely differ in our respective reasoning.
I prefer to use the urinal that would take me several steps more for the following reasons: First, it is the one that is less used by people, and therefore less stinky and grimy. Second, I need additional walking steps for good health. Third, you can readily spot a pervert if he comes close to you, even if there are more convenient bowls available to him. Lastly, I can fend off a thug with my right hand the moment he declares a stick-up.
If you’re not thinking along those lines that’s bad news. And if you’ve got the tendency to pick up a bowl randomly without assessing the whole situation, that’s even worse. Just the same, I hope this simple analysis will give you some appreciation about the way of the kaizen next time you need to use a public toilet.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.