Toyota: Culture of Curiousity, Curious Culture…

It’s a box!

There is a lot of talk around the successes that Toyota has enjoyed as of late, especially when contrasted against the slow demise of the traditional automotive industry leaders G.M. and Ford. Toyota’s success has been remarkable, and here is a quick recap from a recent article in :

  • - Toyota has not lost money in a quarter for over 55 years… since 1951
  • - In 2006 Toyota posted net profit of $17 billion (while Ford and G.M. circled insolvency)
  • - Over a 25 year span Toyota went from veritable industrial startup to diversified global empire
  • - Toyota is now the largest automotive manufacturer in the world

There are a number of reasons why Toyota sustains success in a fiercely competitive industry recognized for unrealistically low margins. The most obvious of these is that Toyota continues to defy convention and determine its own course. In that Business Week article author reviews by and digs deep into what has contributed to the success that Toyota enjoys and comes up with some pretty powerful themes. Magee’s book looks at:

  • - Focusing on the long term
  • - Jumping beyond the current trend
  • - Making quality everyone’s responsibility
  • - Managing individual strengths

These themes essentially define Toyota’s corporate culture and you see them at work every day. They are operational practices for the entire company, but modeled and executed with prejudice by the executive management. This is consistent with the reality that effective and innovative cultures begin at the top. Beyond all of this, though, McFarland identifies another quality of Toyota’s culture that has helped drive success. Curiosity.

Toyota’s culture was conceived by curiosity. Sakichi Toyoda, the company’s founder, set out to revolutionize weaving technology and build the best looms possible. Not just in Japan. In the world. He went on a tour of looms in Europe and the United States and brought the best ideas and practices back to Japan where he improved on them and secured over 100 patents in the process. His son and successor, Kiichiro, went on his own tour of Detroit automakers in the 1920’s and upon his return moved Toyota into the automobile manufacturing business. 70 years of this approach has empowered Toyota and allowed it to always bring the best back to the company, to continuously improve, and to reward creative thinking. Toyota is not necessarily propelled by the unending belief that things can be done better as much as it is compelled by the constant search to find better ways to do things. This is institutionalized continuous improvement, it is institutionalized curiosity.

2 Responses to “Toyota: Culture of Curiousity, Curious Culture…”

  1. Jeff Coffey Says:

    Strategies and tactics…

    This is a case where Toyota’s strategies make perfect sense: focus on the long term, jumping trends, quality as everyone’s responsibility, and managing individual strengths.

    However, I’m curious about how Toyota approached the tactics. Employees typical focus on their own short term needs, not long term needs of the business. Trendspotting is guesswork, at best. The definition of quality evolves as products evolve. And employees (and their strengths) shift constantly and rarely in sync with the needs of the business.

    It is one thing to have founded the company with a culture of curiosity, but how have they sustained it for so long?

    Seems like Detroit is the more common story in business today — ride the coat tails of success straight into oblivion.

  2. John Schneider Says:

    It would seem that Toyota’s success has been to defy the trap of legacy thinking. This has been achieved tactically by modeling the desired culture from the top down, from corporate to the factory floors in Alabama and Tennessee… and from rewarding those that contribute to this productive and progressive culture. Really, once initiated that should be an easy thing to perpetuate, it just needs to me initiated and nurtured.

    At a base level we are looking at the typical American approach to enterprise contrasted against a dramatically different model, and one now that transcends any national definition. Are we the last ones to understand what globalization means? To understand how to thrive in the new economic reality that we, by and large, set in motion over 10 years ago?

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