Kaizen is not about efficiency
Akio went on to explain another invention used in this loom. He began by telling his guests about a problem faced by textile mills in the day.
In that period, the women who worked in these factories often contracted respiratory illnesses.
When the thread ran out, weavers would use their mouths to suck a new line through the eye of the shuttle. In environments where the air was filled with cotton dust, this created health problems.
In Sakichi’s improved shuttle, you pull the thread until it snaps and passes through the hole on the other side. This was one of his patents.
Toyota is synonymous with kaizen (improvement). Toyota-style improvement begins by visiting the genba, seeing the situation on the ground, and figuring out where the trouble lies. That’s where it all starts.
These days, people equate kaizen with improving efficiency or increasing productivity, but these are merely outcomes.
I think businesspeople like yourselves who play a central management role tend to focus on the outcome, namely increased productivity.
But when it comes to figuring out the purpose or why you want to solve a particular problem, the only way is to see things for yourself in the spirit of genchi genbutsu.
The “3 I’s” of Kiichiro’s generation
Sakichi and his son Kiichiro sold the patents to Platt Brothers, then a world leader in looms.
With that, Akio continued his explanation while heading further into the building toward a display of Toyota’s first mass-produced passenger car, the Toyoda Model AA.
Kiichiro put those funds into car development, which he began by imitating existing cars.
He imported a Chevrolet from the U.S., disassembled it into parts, and tried to copy them. And so, Toyota’s automotive business started with imitation.
But what did Kiichiro and his team do next? They made improvements, finding ways to build better parts and reduce the number of components.
Having progressed from imitation to improvement, the founding members went a step further to innovation.
After reminiscing about Toyota’s pioneers, Akio began to share his thoughts on the ancestors of his three guests.
The cars we have now are different from those we had when your family first began doing business with Toyota.
Trust in our company has grown immensely. I believe this is because those earlier generations continued to improve and innovate.
Your grandfathers took on Toyota’s products while they were still an unknown entity. We are truly grateful for their courage.
AAB committed to selling Toyota cars at a time when people knew little about Japan, let alone the Toyota brand. Akio expressed his appreciation for the first generation, who, despite their efforts, never saw the success that the company enjoys today.
The President’s reminder
After explaining those two inventions central to Toyota’s origin story, Akio shared his reason for putting them in that particular location.
This Toyoda Model AA passenger car was built by my grandfather, while that Type G automatic loom was the work of my great-grandfather. The point of displaying them here, in a place I often visit, is to remind myself that I must not forget the company’s origins.
Here, we often have visitors like yourselves who will inherit a family business. I want to convey my gratitude to those who have come before us through the founder’s grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Akio once more gazed warmly at the three men and offered some parting advice.
For people such as yourselves, it’s important to occasionally return to your origins when the world around you changes. I hope you will take the time to consider how your company’s founders felt and what drove them to begin doing business with all their many partners.