Thursday, May 17, 2007

1 Million Ways to Succeed

I recently took the opportunity at the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo (sponsored by the Small Business Times) to hear Matthew May, senior advisor to the University of Toyota, offer insights from his new book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation.

As Toyota surpasses GM as the #1 U.S. automaker, we should all take note that Toyota implements one million new ideas a year. I’ll repeat: 1,000,000 new ideas! That’s an average of about 2,740 innovations every day!

There are a couple of key factors behind this astonishing success that are worth repeating:

  • Toyota’s people – every day, everywhere, throughout the organization – are looking for problems they can solve. Management doesn’t block them, but actively encourages these efforts. By recognizing that perfection is a pursuit and not a goal, they accept the fact that small failures (or skinning your knees as we call it at SH) are a natural part of the process.

  • Innovation The Toyota Way focuses on smaller, easy-to-implement ideas that, believe it or not, “respect the box.” In fact, “swinging for the fences” is something Toyota avoids like the plague. They reason that they can’t afford high strikeout rates in today’s highly competitive market. They also know that working within the system is important until it’s time for a new box. There’s a rhythm to change and innovation that has to fit.

May challenges business leaders to understand that innovation is not as much about new technologies as it is about opportunity and impact. We not only should expect good ideas to come from anywhere in our organization, we should also demand and reward it. In doing so, we’ll unleash the full potential of our organizations. In not doing so, we can expect the Toyotas of this world to pass us by.

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