Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kaizen = Change to Good

The founder of Tesla wrote a piece on his blog at
that really got my creative juices flowing after playing to my
Japanese and Caucasian heart strings in love the automobile.

Reading Martin's post suddenly made me realize why I respect
Toyota and Ford, although, I've never been excited by actually
driving or using their products. It's because those founders
have actually pioneered processes and not flashy products!!!

Toyota founded, "kaizen" and Ford invented the "assembly line."

Those two management science principles power almost everything
in the digital world and challenge what's left in the industrial
world of industry and business everyday.

First of all, I'll borrow two quotes, "better late than never," and "failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently." This comment is a month too late, I'm sorry for your experience Martin, only time will heal, and as far as Ford, it's not about what kind of product a Ford car or truck is, but about the man that invented the assembly line.

He also failed twice because shareholders wanted an expensive car, he just wanted to race and build another one for the masses. One of his failures became Cadillac, who's focus was the highest profit margins.

Compare that to Toyota's first entry, an ugly underpowered car, that couldn't get on the freeway. Almost identical to the Prius released 50 years later that has gone on to sell one million units at $20,000,000,000 or more along with saving hundreds of thousand of gallons of gasoline.

So if Ford invented the assembly line and Mr. Toyoda studied it, were they engineers or management scientists? Well, one might argue, just as two Stanford professors do in Built to Last, that a company's true value is it's organization, grounded in permanent DNA that never goes away, but any innovative technology that goes through the system can be innovative. Building a clock vs. telling time.

The time is now for building the digital automobile and Toyota started with the Prius foreshadowed by decades of experience in processes grown from looms grounded in Kaizen.

I asked my Japanese wife to simply define this, and she has no automotive or engineering or business background.

She said, "just a moment..." then drew on a scratch piece of paper, some Kanji (Chinese characters imported by a Buddhist monk who achieved enlightenment by walking around Japan's smallest island for months on a trek people still follow today called something like 88 temples) that she thinks reads...

Searching for Kaizen
"aratameru" for the first one and
and she wasn't sure of the reading when standing alone but very clear on the meaning, "yoi."

So what does Kai from China or aratemeru in Japanese really mean? According to a quick internet search, "change, alter, improve, remodel." I would think that change and alter are Eastern and improve and remodel are modern.

Basically, we're talking about change, NOT make better, or run lean... Now take a look at every Toyota or Toyoda product from cars to houses to controllers. The Prius came from 1,000 engineers THROWING out 80 designs to get to 650 patents replaced by the 2nd generation that Hollywood bought to be made obsolete by plug-ins.

I'm not sure about better, but change is 100% correct.

So what about "zen" and not this is not the zen you are thinking about, remember, the Japanese language is the 2nd most difficult language in the world because of three alphabets and multiple meanings. My wife says that in the Kaizen combination, "zen" means yoi.

Well even I know this word. It's good, but it's a very rare way to say good. Normally, one would say, ii. For example, I'm good (full) or good job. Yoi is a different good.

It seems to carry more respect, as if something difficult or important was achieved, almost as if it's more used in the past tense as opposed to have a good day, maybe, "Wow, that was a good effort" no matter what the result was.

There's no question that you made a "yoi" effort at Tesla Martin, and the only constant in the world's biggest business is change.

So putting the two together, I come up with "change good."

NOTICE THAT THIS KAIZEN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LEAN or the Western definition, "continuous improvement" which was taught in my MBA coursework.

This has to do with a different perspective. Whereas the East looks at the process, the West looks at the result. Japanese doctor's don't tell patients that they have cancer and focus on the process of what got there and beyond. We want to cut it out, like firing someone who makes a mistake.

But what if mistakes are part of the "kaizen" process, or change to good as opposed to good change. What if Toyota stopped at the 2nd, 5th, 52nd or 79th G21 (Prius) failure?

We might not have a digital benchmark to beat today...

So as you build your next company, I encourage you to focus half of your early efforts on DNA that relates to the process, not the technology. DNA that make an organization, "lean" not matter what kind of transmission or controller goes through the assembly line. And maybe most important, DNA that applauds failure as another chance to start again more good!

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