“I have long felt that people have listened too intently to the analysts who have not actually “played the game” – the interpreters of Toyota’s management system, not the people who actually created it. I think that it is easy for all to agree that someone who actually created something is a much better guide than someone who studied it second-hand.[…] Original sources are the best sources to learn from and should form the fundamental basis of your understanding of TPS and Lean. ”
Sourced through Bob Emiliani
Michel Baudin‘s comments: The originators of Toyota’s production and management system are all dead. This includes Sakichi, Kiichiro and Eiji Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo, and others, which makes it difficult to learn from them through personal communication. We can read what little they published, or rely on the generations that came after them. The people Emiliani shows to the right of Taiichi Ohno as “originators,” Fujio Cho and Chihiro Nakao, actually are disciples of the originators, which isn’t quite the same. As Emiliani sees it, the alternative to learning from these people is learning from “interpreters” who, as he implies in the title, don’t know what they are talking about because they had no hand in creating it. Are these really the only choices?
If this were true, the only way to learn about mass production would through the writings of Charles Sorensen or Henry Ford ghostwriter Samuel Crowther. In fact, there are many fields of knowledge where going to original sources is definitely not the easiest way to learn. For example, except for the believers in Great Books education, nobody goes back to Isaac Newton to learn calculus.
Unless you are working for Toyota, your goal is not to learn its system per se but to learn from it to support your own improvement efforts, regardless of whether you are a manager, an engineer, a production supervisor or a production operator. The originators’ ideas don’t have to be interpreted as if they were holy scripture. We need to understand the context in which these ideas were first applied and the problems they were intended to solve. Then we can assess their relevance to our problems and adopt/adapt them, or use them as inspiration for new ideas while remaining consistent with principles.
And everyone has limitations, including originators and their disciples. They have deeper and better information about one company’s systems but, if they are retirees, it may not be current. Their long service in the industry where they made their contributions may make it difficult for them to grasp the different issues of other industries. And if they are still involved with the company, they may be restricted in what they are allowed to share.
Toyota, for example, teaches simplified versions of its system even to its own, non-Japanese employees. I have discussed this earlier with Bob Emiliani. What drew my attention to it is that the same pillar of the Toyota Way is called Respect For Humanity (人間性尊重) in Japanese, Respect For People in English, and People-Oriented (以人为本) in Mandarin. For our purposes, we don’t want to learn a simplified version of TPS but the full one, and it takes detective work.
If you have studied an approach rather than originated it, your coaching or advice is only based on 2nd-hand knowledge if you have not applied it in real situations. Once you have, your personal experience of what works and what doesn’t in what circumstances is 1st-hand knowledge.
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