Sometimes we need to take a look back in history to understand and appreciate the significance of change over time.  I recently found an article titled “How Toyota Turns Workers Into Problem Solvers” that was published on November 26, 2001 and authored by Sarah Jane Johnston.  The title of the article gave me cause to reflect on the recalls that were announced only a few months ago.  Some argued that the quality concerns were symptomatic of the focused and accelerated growth experienced by Toyota.

Sarah Jane Johnston sent questions to Steven Spear who provided many interesting responses that appear and comprise the primary content in the article accordingly.  It is interesting to reflect on these responses in light of Toyota’s current circumstances. Sustaining performance is difficult for any company and marking continued improvements may even be deceiving.  By way of analogy, consider the fashion industry and the ever-changing styles and colours.  How many times have we seen certain fashions re-appear?  A recent article that appeared on Yahoo! suggested that grey hair is “in”.  This may be great news for some of us but it seems a little out of place when young people are intentionally dying their hair grey to be “in fashion.”  This is certainly contrary to the many marketing and advertising campaigns in recent years that encouraged us to get the “grey out”.

When managing or monitoring changes at the micro level, it is equally imperative to review the overall trend at the macro level.  For example, reports of an improving economy continue to be offset by reports of failed business ventures, layoffs, and foreclosures.  Measuring improvement is relative to a bench mark in time.  Recognizing this fact, we must be sure that we understand the relevance or significance of the benchmark we have selected for our baseline performance.  Job growth and economic recovery are relative to the benchmark low that was selected to make this statement “true”.

It is common to hear that history tends to repeat itself.  That being the case, we need to take the time to reflect on our history to determine what is truly best for the future.  While most organizations tend to focus on events to prevent repeat failures, I would encourage you to reflect on past successes to determine how to become even more successful when the next opportunity arises.  Numerous books and tools are readily available to help us with our problem solving efforts.  I suggest that we need more books on Success Solving.  We agonize over failures for days, months, and even years trying to figure out what could possibly have went wrong and what can we do to fix it.  Imagine conducting a similar pathology for each success!  Oddly, we take pride in our successes as though by design and through flawless execution.  If perfect storms can cause catastrophic failures, is it possible that the opposite is also true?

It is clear that Success can have an adverse affect on individuals and organizations alike.  Failing to exercise our problem solving skills also leads to a desensitization of what really constitutes a problem.  It is interesting to note how often the expression “The Secrets of Success” is used to stimulate and arouse our innate curiosity for the answer.  The reality is that there is no magic bullet or miraculous prescription to achieve success.  Success is a moving target and how it is measured will be determined by the entrepreneur that gives us cause to raise the bar one notch higher.

Lastly, another point of reflection is to understand the level of hard work and commitment required  to create the company that exists today and whether that same level of effort, determination, enthusiasm, and entrepreneurial spirit still exists.  As one successful business leader once told me, “Don’t forget your roots!”

Numerous books have been written on Problem Solving, I think it’s time to write “Success Solving” books.

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Until Next Time – STAY lean!

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