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#60 – Kaizen

by | Nov 28, 2016



Fundamental to the DNA of Toyota is a core principle known as kaizen. This principle gave rise to the Lexus marketing brand: “The Pursuit of Perfection.”


Kaizen means the pursuit of improvement, constantly making every effort to improve efficiency and encouraging innovation, no matter how small. The Toyota DNA considers doing nothing and changing nothing the worst possible thing that could happen to the company. All errors are opportunities for learning rather than blaming. Learning is a continuous, company-wide, never-ending process.


Financial incentives are offered to associates for new ideas on how to improve efficiency and eliminate any waste or activity that does not produce added value. The winners are publically acknowledged throughout the company each year. No idea is considered too small or insignificant because the accumulation of all these small ideas becomes significant.


Insignificant differences become significant over time. NASCAR driver Chase Elliott won the starting pole position for the 2016 Daytona 500 race driving around the two-and-half-mile Daytona Speedway in 45.854 seconds. Matt Kenseth, driving a Toyota, was second-fastest at only 0.065 seconds slower. This difference in speed seems insignificant, but over the distance of a 500-mile race Kenseth would finish almost a mile behind Elliott.


Kaizen is a company-wide effort for continuous, intelligent improvements in small or seemingly insignificant areas that add up to big differences in efficiency. It is a grinding, boring, and constant process deeply embedded in the culture of Toyota that takes great discipline and patience but yields impressive results. Chairman Eiji Toyoda said, “Even a dry towel can produce water when new ideas are conceived.”


“It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation. It’s better to be wise than strong; intelligence outranks muscle any day.” Proverbs 24:3,5 (MSG)


It was March 3, 1989. Initial production of the LS400 would begin in 90 days. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had not made a ruling on the Lexus vs. LexisNexis naming issue. We were out of time. Game over. The engineers in Japan gave us one additional week until Friday, March 10, or else we would have to change the name.


(To be continued in “Lexus vs. LexisNexis Round 8: Knockout)