Tuesday Jul 14, 2009

A Community Builder who Never Quits

Grace Lee Boggs puts things in perspective quite nicely in this interview with Bill Moyers. It's all about building community and empowering people to take control of their own own lives, instead of looking to some leader somewhere to provide for them. Real change -- change for the good, anyway -- starts down at the grassroots and forces movement above. Not the other way around. And when economic and governmental structures break down, that's no reason to give up and complain and get distracted, it's simply a reason to rebuild and focus on self sufficiency and distributing power so it can be used to actually help people. That`s how some people feel in Detroit. They are acting. They are building. They aren't giving up and leaving others behind. And at least one of those community builders is 93. Ninety three. Feeling down? Call Grace. She knows no other way.

Tuesday Oct 28, 2008

Small Improvements Leading to Big Results

The Open Secret of Success: "Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it's taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible." -- James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

There is so much to say about that quote. I think it's anti-intuitive for many people, which is probably why many miss it. But what I love is that it's just liberating. If this is true, and if much of Toyota's success is based on everyone being responsible for innovation, then I find that inspiring. Empowering. It means that innovation is not exclusive. It's not necessarily only locked inside the special people with big names, big titles, big brains, big megaphones, or big salaries. How utterly democratic. That's not at all how innovation is generally characterized, though. Be careful what you read.

So, will the American auto companies eventually get this? I think they will. It's cool to see Ford getting back into the quality game -- Ford gains on Toyota -- the Toyota way -- now so things may be changing. This bit about companies trying to leverage the Toyota manufacturing system is really interesting to me. It seems difficult to implement because it's such a different way of thinking, but extreme circumstances are also efficient focusing mechanisms. People get back to basics because they have no choice. That's where Toyota's system came from, actually -- a group of people who built a company during difficult times.

As soon as I read these new links (thanks for the pointers, Chris), I thought about how the Toyota production system is open source, basically, and how leading FOSS developers embrace the very same principles of incremental improvement. Just see Linus Torvalds here and here for one obvious and high profile example, but any reading of open source culture and software development methodologies will bubble up many interesting associations.

Everything tagged Toyota here.

Thursday Jul 24, 2008

Toyota Gets Quick

Toyota Wins Few Fans at the Track. Interesting article in the WSJ. Toyota has been slowly earning its way in American racing for some time now, but lately there are some negative reactions from NASCAR fans to Toyota's success. But I wonder if that's more a result of a "cocky" and "arrogant" driver than a relatively low key car company.

Monday Jun 09, 2008

"Why not Japan?"

Nissan chips away at Japan's concrete ceiling: "In 2003, [Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn] set up a special team to review Nissan's diversity, or lack of it. That led to the creation of a Diversity Development Office to help promote women and a Diversity Steering Committee to make sure top company leaders bought in. Mr. Ghosn himself was the committee's first chair. If Nissan-Renault values diversity, "Why not in Japan," he says. He insists that diversity is essential to the kind of "cross-functional teamwork" that breeds innovation at the auto maker. "When men and women of different mindsets, different backgrounds, different cultures meet to work on particular problems they usually find better solutions," he said last month in New York, where Nissan collected the annual Catalyst Award for helping women advance. -- Toronto Globe and Mail

Totally agree. And there's no acceptable answer to the "why not Japan?" question, either. This is 2008, after all, my goodness. The obvious lack of diversity in traditional Japanese companies will only doom them to the wrecking ball in a rapidly globalizing world. Oh, and this Ghosn guy? He speaks six languages. Six. That's diversity.

Thursday Mar 20, 2008

Toyota: Don't Measure Against Rivals

Toyota finds success is a bitter-sweet pill: "From the moment he took the helm in 2005, [Toyota Motor Corp President Katsuaki] Watanabe has made it his mission to discourage employees from measuring Toyota against rivals but rather against a lofty goal: developing a dream car that 'cleans the air, doesn't cause accidents, makes drivers healthier and can go around the world on one tank of fuel. We have a long way to go,' he said." -- Reuters

Agree 100%. You can't win in the long run by playing defense and getting distracted by reacting to a competitor.

Monday Feb 04, 2008

Torvalds on Japan and OpenSolaris

Jim Zemlin released part two of his conversation with Linus Torvalds. I blogged about part one last month. Lots of interesting perspectives in the entire interview.

When asked to comment about OpenSolaris, Torvalds said, "It's generally hard to build a community around a commercial entity that also wants to be in control because everybody else around that commercial entity will always feel like they're at the mercy of Sun. And I'm not even going to go into OpenSolaris because, quite frankly, I don't even care." And there were a few more bits after that, but that's the gist of it. Following the comments of Torvalds about OpenSolaris has been interesting over the last few years. Sometimes supportive, sometimes negative, sometimes indifferent.

But more interesting were his thoughts about the Japanese and the value of incremental improvements: "But if you just incrementally improve on something, you will get there eventually. One analogy ... is the auto industry 40 years ago and how non-innovative Japanese companies that just plodded along, how they were looked down upon by the true innovators in the U.S. auto industry. And look -- who was it that actually ended up changing the auto industry?" Totally agree.

One of the things many Japanese are famous for is taking the long view. It's enough to drive the average westerner insane. But anyway. On OpenSolaris, very early on learned to embrace a long term perspective, and that came from dealing with many engineers at Sun who hold long term views of technology. So, I wonder, what happens if we just plod along, if we just keep improving OpenSolaris incrementally over time, if we keep learning from those who have gone before. I wonder what that perspective buys us?

Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II

Sunday Jan 13, 2008

Dark Suits

The $2,500 Car: "They scoffed when Indian industrialist Ratan Tata announced his plan to build a car that would cost 100,000 rupees--about $2,500 at today's exchange rate. Auto executives--the ones who spend more than that for each of their dark suits--called him crazy." -- Robyn Meredith, Forbes Magazine.

Saturday Jul 21, 2007


Nissan adds diversity to Japan's vocabulary: "Nissan's onsite day care, family leave of up to two years and flexible work schedules are helping attract and keep more women. Nissan has also been spreading the word about diversity at universities and seminars to recruit women." -- Houston Chronicle

Cool. Maybe my daughter will grow up to run Nissan in Japan some day. Actually, the very last thing I want for her to is be an executive, but that's not the point. Hopefully, Nissan will help industry in Japan grow up a bit here. It's 2007, after all, isn't it?

Sunday May 27, 2007

Toyota & UAW

It will be fascinating to see how Toyota deals with the United Auto Workers union now that the company is taking out GM and Ford and all eyes are on the Japanese automaker. Publically, Toyota seems to be positioning itself quite differently from its American competitors -- In Kentucky, Toyota Faces Union Rumblings: "We think the historic American approach to things is to run full blast, pay out as high as you can in the short term while times are good, and then when times go bust, you lay people off, you shut plants and you destroy communities," said Pete Gritton, a Toyota vice president who oversees human resources at the company's plant. "Toyota does not want to do that."


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