How The "Toyota Way" Can Change Your Life

Date: 07.Dec.2020Category:Inspiration

How The "Toyota Way" Can Change Your Life

Before surrendering to my higher life purpose in Men’s Wellness Advocacy, I worked in the automotive industry for 11 years as an Account Executive in digital advertising. Pick any automotive brand out of a hat and, more than likely, I handled their account at one point or another. (You’re welcome for all those annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere online.)

To create solid partnerships with clients, one must know the complexities of the brands. I was entrenched in every aspect of my automotive clients. I knew every detail of the company goals', every models' launch dates, marketing budgets per vehicle per year, and even the rumor mill of the “who’s who” at every level within the company. It was strongly encouraged to buy a vehicle from your client’s model lineup to show off how dedicated you were to their brand. I remember driving my brand-new Mercedes at the time to the Lexus headquarters in Torrance, CA (They since have moved to Plano, TX.) for a business meeting with the Chief Marketing Officer. Driving a competitor’s vehicle is a bit of a faux pas, so I had to hide my car by parking blocks away from their headquarters and run across four lanes of traffic to get to my meeting. Proving your devotion to each brand was vital in building long-lasting and very profitable partnerships.

I always found it interesting how different each auto manufacturer was from the next. They have competing model lineups, of course, but it always fascinated me to watch how the sausage was made, so to speak. I was heavily engaged in how each company operated, fully understood their core values, and learned the secrets to their success. Out of the 15 automotive clients I worked with, one brand, in particular, left the biggest impact on me and my life. However, the word “impact” can have a positive or negative connotation to it. With Toyota, it’s a bit of both.

Toyota Emblem in Frost
Photo by Chandler Cruttenden / Unsplash

Toyota’s advertising agency was (and probably still is) notoriously known to be exceedingly difficult to work with. Toyota, by far, caused the most anguish with sales executives in the advertising world. The amount of sleepless nights, vacations ruined, and emotional breakdowns involved in working with a client like Toyota is not one that’s easily forgotten (no matter how hard you try). But no one ever said capturing a whale is easy. Holding onto it, however, is a whole other ballgame, involving an unbelievable amount of time, patience, and dedication. If you’re asking a client like Toyota to spend hundreds of millions of advertising dollars with you, knowing the brand inside and out is a must. I received my paycheck from the company I worked for, but at the end of the day, my client was the boss. If Toyota said “Jump”, I’d ask “How high?”. It was a pride swallowing siege every day when I worked in Ad tech sales. Was it worth it? I’d say what I gained from it was absolutely priceless.

Toyota has an incredible story in which I highly encourage you to read about. One book in particular, called “The Toyota Way” dives into the secrets of their success. Don’t let the cover fool you as it looks like a boring business book. You don’t have to be into cars to appreciate the secrets of success. I wouldn’t say I’m a car enthusiast by any stretch, but Toyota’s motto is one that I, personally, live by to this day. Even though “kaizen” is Toyota’s company mantra, it’s a way of life.

But first, we must set the stage. Close your eyes and imagine you’re standing inside an automotive plant where they build the very vehicle you drive today. Imagine all the machinery and personnel needed on the production line. What do you see and hear? You’re probably imagining a grimy, dirty oil on the floor type of facility, right? Would it surprise you if I said that it’s just the opposite? I’ve toured several automotive plants, including the infamous Ford Motor Company factory in Dearborn, MI, known as “The Rouge” built in 1917. It’s still in operation, now building the Ford F150’s. Without a doubt, you could eat off the floor in this factory. And this goes for all the automotive factories, in fact. It’s an incredible thing to witness a vehicle being built, but it’s quite another to see the pristine condition the auto manufacturers keep their factories in. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can eat off the floors. It’s so sterile in these automotive factories you almost feel you should wear little booties over your shoes while touring the facility. Everything is orderly and the employees almost become one with the robotic machinery themselves. It’s truly an eye-opening experience to see the automation and precision in producing the same vehicles we drive today.

On the assembly line, building a vehicle is a dance between humans and robotic machinery. They still need humans to ensure production runs smoothly and the highest quality product churns out to the market. The gold standard of innovation, efficiency, and quality of product is Toyota. This is because of the game-changing “Toyota Production System”, which is so revolutionary in its design that the entire auto industry, including other manufacturing companies, have adapted and used it. Years ago, I read a news article that absolutely blew me away about the Toyota factories in Japan. It talked about the enormous differences in the handling of quality and integrity between Japanese and U.S. automakers. If one of the Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) had a vehicle come off the line with mechanical issues, they would fix the car and send it on its way to the dealership to be sold. They never stopped to investigate the cause of the issue in order to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Toyota, on the other hand, would stop all production without blinking an eye or what’s calling the “Andon cord system” (which they invented). Every employee has the power and encouraged to pull the cord or now a button to stop production, warning management in case of a significant issue. Interestingly enough, employees “pull the andon cord” regularly, even over A team leader rushes to the operator’s side to investigate the situation and conduct a check whether all standards are being adhered to (parts, assembly, etc..). This is an enormous deal because every manufacturer has very strict daily output goals they must meet on the assembly line. The minute you pull the andon cord to halt production, you’re costing the company millions right off the bat. American automakers couldn’t fathom doing something like this, fearing tremendous loss of time and money. They were in the business of churning out as many vehicles as possible without consideration towards quality. In fact, at the GM plant, the mantra had been “never stop the line.” Workers were fired if they stopped production, no matter what issues they saw happening. In Japan, however, they encouraged every worker to pull the andon cord anytime they saw something that was not meeting or exceeding the highest standards of production. It’s the “Toyota Way”.
What does this have to do with personal life philosophy?

EVERYTHING.

It doesn’t take a ton of brain power to understand how this management philosophy could translate into a personal mantra. The “Toyota Way” is based on the two foundational principles of Continuous Improvement (kaizen) and Respect for People. Those two simple, yet incredibly powerful principles are truly a way of life. Kaizen is a perfect life guiding principle because it’s about self-awareness, self-respect, and self-improvement. Only after we have respect for ourselves can we have respect for others. If you think about it, our lives are very similar to owning and operating a company. We have quality control (health and wellness), management (of our personal lives, thoughts, present reality), and goals. By creating a culture which promotes openness to change, adaptation, empowerment of employees, and teamwork, Toyota became the largest auto manufacturer in the world. So why not mirror their secrets of success for one’s own personal life?

kaizen-good-change

My long career working with brands, like Toyota, compelled me into the work that I do today. We put band-aids on issues in our lives, instead of really getting to the root of the problem. For example, if a man has anger issues and lashes out, we call him an asshole and move on, never stopping to explore what’s really going on. We look at the surface level issue and never bother to examine the heart of the problem. We tell men to be more of x and less of y, but not too much of z, without offering guidance or support. And even worse, men minimize their own mental and emotional needs, duct-taping any leaks in their life just to keep their boat from completely capsizing. Only at some point, the duct-tape doesn’t hold anymore and life feels like its caving in.

We’ve all heard or even said, “My father was (fill in the blank) and so was his father before him. And now, so am I. It runs in the family, I guess.”. Or my favorite is “This is just who I am. I can’t change. I’m stuck in my ways”. Those statements are classic lines. I hate to break the news to you, but you’re not fooling anyone. You’re lying to yourself and to everyone around you. Instead of playing Mr. Fix-It all the time, isn’t it time to stop and do the REAL work necessary to change your life? You can only use so much duck-tape until you run out. The domestic car manufacturers feared halting production to fix the crux of the issue on the line. Fear always stops us from digging in and getting to the root of the problem. Many times we fear what we might find. We don’t want to go there because we’ve shoved that pain or trauma into a box and buried it long ago. “Why unearth it now? It’s in the past.”, you say. Because you know, and I know it’s the root cause to your problem. And patching up all the other issues in your life isn’t working anymore. It’s a choice we make whether we want to go the extra mile, pull the cord, and say “Stop! I want to find the problem, implement a solution, and become the highest quality person I can be.” You know, and I know it’s the only path to the happiness you seek. Blaming others for your life is a sad attempt in ignoring the actual work needed to uncover the real problem and solving it once and for all.

After failing miserably in the marketplace, GM found itself partnering with Toyota and their innovative system, including the Andon cord. However, it took decades for GM to implement Toyota’s production secrets. Why? Because as with life, we resist change even though we know we need it. For decades, GM watched their company churn out junk cars. Their ego stood in the way of implementing the changes they know they needed to make. It was far easier to patch it up and send it on its way. It’s the “easy way” out until it’s not. Thankfully, they reached out to Toyota just in time. Can you imagine an American automaker reaching out, hat in hand, to a Japanese car manufacturer for help because they’ve run their entire company into the ground? This is the wake up call to face reality and push the andon button in your own life.


Photo by Rich Smith / Unsplash

Ways You Can Implement Kaizen:

  1. Stop minimizing your life. Your issues are not minor. You deserve to feel whole again, or maybe for the first time in your life. The duct-tape isn’t holding anymore. However, successful outcomes rely heavily on the desire to change. You have to WANT to grow. Every human being can continuously improve upon themselves. Your level of desire is the only thing stopping the transformation into the best version of YOU.

  2. Trust and empower others to help. You’ll be surprised how wise people are around you when you tell your ego to go take a hike and allow them in to help. Kaizen is all about teamwork and the openness to new perspectives. Shocking as it may seem, you do not have all the answers.

  3. Choose a solution and make a plan. Follow the steps you and your entrusted team put together. Allow and encourage your team to pull the cord should they see something in your issue that you may not.

  4. Try it out. Be open to trying out solutions to measure their validity. Patience and perseverance are key here. Throw out the “I tried it and it doesn’t work, so I’m giving up” nonsense. Allow yourself to implement solutions and be okay if you must adapt or modify them. You’re a human, not a robot. Perfection need not apply here.

  5. Start small. Kaizen is about making minor changes, one at a time. Think about building a car. You don’t throw doors, windows, and all the mechanics on it all at once. It’s a planned process. You start here, then you continue down the line, and so forth. This is important to understand because when we decide to do something in our life, we tend to go full-steam ahead. This doesn’t give us an opportunity to know what’s working and what needs adapted or fixed. The bigger the change, the greater the fall. Instead, keep your continuous improvement to small, manageable changes so you stay motivated and use those wins to continue to move forward.

And what do you know, Toyota’s tag line for decades was “Moving Forward”.

“Before you say you can't do something, try it.” - Sakichi Toyoda