Changing the World in Their Spare Time--Toyota's After-Hours Innovators


If it's not the boss's orders or an unfinished job, what brings these Toyota employees together after the workday ends?

Although office hours should be over by now, for some reason, a crowd has gathered in one of Toyota’s conference rooms, listening intently to a presentation.

There is talk of things like “communication between working couples” and “relaxing aromas,” none of which have anything to do with carmaking. What on earth is going on?

Support for enterprising fools

In fact, this is an in-house business model contest run by Toyota volunteers.

The A-1 CONTEST is a competition for all kinds of innovative business ideas, not limited to cars. It sets out to crown the number one aho (fool) from among those who dream of making the world a better place.

This “aho” comes from the words spoken by Kiichiro Toyoda when he founded Toyota: “I personally think you’d have to be a fool to charge headfirst into this business. But trying to succeed in challenging ventures makes life interesting because few people pursue them.”

Toyota Motor Corporation founder Kiichiro Toyoda

Embodied in that “A” is the desire to see today’s employees carry on the spirit of innovation passed down since Toyota’s founding.

Each year, some 100 Toyota Group employees participate. After forming teams around August, they have roughly four months to grapple with customer concerns and brush up their business ideas.

Final presentations held in December determine the year’s winning team and idea.

For the 2023 presentations, Toyota Times was there to see it all unfold.

Various businesses were presented, ranging from regional revitalization to shopping assistance services, with some teams even crafting prototypes.

The session was also live-streamed, allowing staff from a broad mix of professions and age groups to participate remotely.

The entries are judged not on profitability but on whether they truly address customer needs.

Which idea claimed top honors in 2023?

We’ll reveal the answer later in the article, so make sure to read on.