In 2020, Toyota celebrated its sixth consecutive year as the world’s number one motor vehicle company according to Fortune Magazine.
The success of the Toyota Motor Corporation can be traced back to the mid-20th century and the development of the Toyota Production System. It is based on a simple, yet powerful, philosophy.
The Efficiency of Toyota’s System
The Toyota Production System employs two important concepts as part of its overall philosophy. The first is jidoka, which means automation with a human touch. In practical terms, jidoka occurs when an issue arises in the automated equipment which manufactures the materials. Workers immediately stop the equipment and investigate the problem. Production does not resume until the problem is fixed. A session between workers and management helps the team discover how the problem could have been avoided as well as how they can improve the process moving forward.
The second foundational concept of the Toyota Production System is known as Just-In-Time. This is employed by making only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the correct amount needed. Together, jidoka and Just-In-Time help Toyota achieve the overarching philosophy of their organization: kaizen.
Kaizen is often referred to as continuous improvement. “Kai” translates to “change” and “zen” means “good.” For companies like Toyota who embrace kaizen, it doesn’t just refer to good change with the equipment on the production line. It also applies to the individual employees themselves. This includes everyone from the assembly line worker to the CEO. Although technology and machinery are an important part of the production process, they need human craftsmanship and ingenuity in order to make kaizen work.
The machines don’t automatically improve on their own. And human beings don’t automatically improve either. It takes an intentional effort.
The improvements made in Toyota assembly plants are moving them toward their vision of creating automobiles that are safe, efficient, and satisfy their customers. In order to be efficient with our improvement, we need to have a vision of where we are going.
The 5 W’s of Our Vision
So let’s look at the 5 W’s that make up our vision: Who…Why…What…Where…and When.
We need to begin with WHO. Who are we? What are the dreams, aspirations, principles, values, and character which make us up? Let’s think of ourselves as one of the vehicles being assembled by Toyota. The different components of our WHO are all the materials that create our vehicle. Our vehicle can deteriorate over time if we don’t focus on taking care of it. Even after our vehicle has been assembled, we can make improvements to it if we are focused and intentional on making it better. We may need to fix or replace some of our aspirations, principles, and character skills. But a vehicle will not run without fuel to power it.
Our WHY is the fuel we use to propel our vehicle. It’s our heart posture. It’s what drives us. As educators, maybe it’s the desire to give young people an experience we never had growing up. Perhaps it’s a desire to make sure kids from all walks of life receive an education. Our WHY is our fuel on our journey. So, we have a car and we have fuel, but what are we going to do with it? Where are we going to go? When are we going to get there?
The Map for Our Journey
The WHAT and the WHERE of our vision create the map we use on our journey. Sometimes we will have the ability to choose our WHAT and our WHERE. We will decide WHAT is the best format to fulfill our vision of who we want to be. And we will decide WHERE is the best environment to help achieve our vision.
When we have the opportunity to seize our WHAT and our WHERE, we should do so. But two pieces of caution. First, the ability to choose our WHAT and WHERE can be taken from us. For example, let’s think about Anne Frank. Her WHAT and her WHERE were pretty much taken from her. Yes, she still had choices, but if she wanted to stay alive those choices were severely limited. Our WHAT and our WHERE can be forcibly taken from us…but our ability to choose our WHO can never be stripped away. Despite her circumstances, Anne Frank chose to be happy and not let those circumstances define her. The second piece of caution we should heed is that sometimes the WHAT and the WHERE we want for our life may not be the WHAT and the WHERE we need in order to be the person we were created to be.
The final W of our vision is our WHEN. Remember, kaizen signifies continuous improvement. It doesn’t set a goal or a deadline. It just says we are going to keep getting better. Even when we appear to be “successful,” we will strive to improve. If we are seeking our full potential as human beings, then there is never a finish line. There is never a destination we will arrive at once and for all.
Our True Potential
So does that mean our vision is useless? Absolutely not! In fact, we can have a vision for WHAT we want to do with our life, WHERE we want to go, and even WHEN we would like to do it. Our vision motivates us to take action and keep moving forward. But we shouldn’t put our value in those things and let them hijack WHO we are.
What is more important: who we are today OR who we will become in the future? Is it possible to live for today while also doing everything we can to develop ourselves into better people for the future?
Our WHO makes up the parts of our vehicle. Our WHY supplies the fuel. Our WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN give us a map to follow.
But along the journey to pursue our dream of who we WANT TO BE…we need to keep an eye out for signs that tell us who we were CREATED TO BE. Because our true potential is not determined by what we want…it is determined by what we were created for.
No matter where we are today and what we do…let’s focus on who we are and LEAD FOR IMPACT!