Thursday Jan 22, 2009

It Blew into a Million Pieces

Japanese companies get dinged all the time for being risk adverse. Not these guys -- Failure: The Secret to Success. Some great stories of gigantic failures in this little video. I love the quotes going back to old man Honda, and it`s clear the culture of try-fail-try-again still pervades their message today. Sure, this is a corporate video, but it`s pretty well done. And how can you not love the guy talking about how his engine blew into a million pieces and splattered all over the track in front of millions of people? Failure. Disappointment. Rejection. On a grand scale. That very same team brought home the championship a few years later, though. And that`s the key. Failure is the secret to success.

Have you ever failed? How big?

I`ll watch this video a few times today. Especially today.

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.

Sunday Aug 03, 2008

Chinese Ambitions

China’s Ambition Soars to High-Tech Industry: "President Hu Jintao hinted at China’s vaulting ambitions during a meeting of China’s scientific elite last June at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he called on scientists to challenge other countries in high technology. "We are ready for a fight," he said, "to control the scientific high ground and earn a seat on the world’s high technology board. We will make some serious efforts to strengthen our nation’s competence."-- NY Times.

Cool. More competition. Should be good for the West. Right? That competition should be good for Japan as well. Rhetorically, though, this article is interesting. I never hear the Japanese talk this way. Americans are bold rhetorically, and the Chinese are demonstrating that they are as well. Not the Japanese, though. I wonder. Is aggressive rhetoric a necessary ingredient for innovation and growth? 

Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

Japanese Innovation

Gen Kanai comments on a recent Newsweek piece -- Why Apple Isn't Japanese. Gen's take is certainly interesting and, sadly, pretty tough to argue with.

The article is pretty critical. The bits I found most interesting were the language and culture issues, since I experience those walls every day. They are so much bigger than anyone on the outside realizes, and I think they go a long way to explaining Japan's lack of growth in certain global markets.

The article also states that Japan will have to compete with new sources of innovation in the future: "Over the next century, disruptive innovations won't be coming only from countries like the United States. They'll also be emerging from dynamic, hungry, rising economies that offer plenty of room for risk-taking, flights of fancy and cross-border synthesis." Although these sources are not directly stated, it's clear that the nations are primarily China and India, which are both embracing capitalism and globalization at blindingly fast rates, and both don't seem to struggle with the language and culture issues like Japan does.

Now, I've been told that these observations represent the distinction between emerging markets and mature markets. But I no longer buy it. Too much of that article describes my direct experience, so I no longer accept the excuses. But will Japan eventually react and change? Are the Japanese hungry enough to compete in a global economy? I actually think they will react and compete. And in ways that may surprise many of their critics. That's the cool thing about innovation and market disruptions. They cycle. When you are disrupted, that sets up the perfect circumstance to innovate do some disrupting yourself.

Saturday Sep 29, 2007

Insanely Innovative

Paul Murphy writes that the Linux movement is "insanely innovative" but focuses that conclusion less on technology and more on the notion that Linux "empowers people who would otherwise not be empowered, flattens the playing field at a level within reach for most University compsci graduates, and offers people a low cost, low risk, point of entry to the Unix world."

I can't really comment on the technical issue because I really don't know, but I certainly agree with the empowering people bit. That's the community dynamic. And that's what I'm trying to focus on with OpenSolaris. OpenSolaris is known for the technical innovations Sun opened from Solaris 10 development a couple of years ago, but our future will be based much more on our ability to build an open development community that also feels empowered to take the technology to new heights.


Tuesday Aug 07, 2007

Berkun's Myths

Here's Scott Berkun talking about The Myths of Innovation at Google's campus in Silicon Valley recently. Really cool stories about innovators and their innovations and some of the things people have done throughout the ages to attempt to quantify innovation. I especially liked the opening history and also when Scott picked apart the word "innovation" itself. Seems innovation means many things to many people. I agree. There are certainly more practical ways to determine the success of an idea than just slapping the work "innovative" on it and sending it out the door. Just an aside: the word "community" is starting to feel like its falling into the innovation trap as well -- it's tossed around so often now that no one knows what it really means anymore. Anyway, Scott's talk is well worth the hour so do take a peek. I'll be getting this book for sure.

Monday Jul 09, 2007

China: The Future of Innovation?

The United States of Technology?: "My own best guess is that the next great hotbed for tech innovation will be China. It is steadily tightening the rules for software intellectual property protection. And a raft of amazingly fast-growing Internet businesses have already arisen, including portals and Sohu, search engine Baidu, game company Shanda, auctioneer Alibaba, and communications and gaming pioneer Tencent. Some number their customers in the hundreds of millions." -- David Kirkpatrick, Fortune

In terms of scale, I find that last sentence almost incomprehensible. And it will be pretty wild watching the Chinese tech industry deal with numbers like that.

Monday Feb 19, 2007

A way of Thinking

Another interesting article on Toyota -- From 0 to 60 to World Domination. This is a really long piece, over 8,000 words, but it's really nicely done.

Toyota employees think long term. They invest heavily in R&D -- much more than their competitors. Goals of quality and efficiency pervade the organization in engineering and marketing and manufacturing and pretty much everywhere else. Serving customers and building great products while not simultaneously hurting the environment (or at least not making it any worse) don't seem contradictory to these guys. They skip the utterly obscene executive pay packages common in the U.S. Unions are not present, nor are the American-style health care costs. They value evolution, not revolution. They prefer long-lasting and well-researched yet flexible strategies over short term sprints based on fads or whims. Their engineers very clearly lead and do significant -- at times obsessive -- field research first hand behind the wheel all over the world. Marketing is both traditional and grass roots and apparently quite simple and effective. They learn from their mistakes. They are remarkably open about their processes, but they also keep secret some of their innovations just as any smart company would. They are a culture built on top of Japanese culture, for sure, but they are by no means exclusively Japanese. They evolved based on the personal experiences of a unique group of people who dealt with the challenges of a country destroyed by war in a particularly innovative way. They are not perfect and don't lead in every market, but they are certainly on a roll in the biggest market and are delivering one body blow after another to the U.S. auto industry. Very interesting story.

There are a lot of great quotes in this article, but this one just jumps off the page:

Toyota spends $20 million a day ... on research and factories. "They are outspending G.M. in R.&D., product development and capital spending," says Sean McAlinden, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research, a not-for-profit consulting firm in Ann Arbor. "If that trend continues, we're dead. The problem is, suppose we made a car" as good as a Toyota. "Then we only have a car as good as they do. It's not just about catching up, or getting into the game. You’ve got to get ahead somehow. But how?"

So, even though the Toyota Production System is open, and even though this article makes it clear that Toyota "has never really caught the Big Three by surprise," people are still asking "how" they do it. Fascinating. Just having access to an open process will only take you so far, I guess.

Further down in the article you'll find the bit that helps explain why so many miss this point:

Management theorists who study Toyota's production system tend to say that it is difficult to replicate, insofar as the company's methods are not simply a series of techniques but a way of thinking about teamwork, products and efficiency.

A way of thinking. That's tough to copy. Even Toyota formally teaches the system to employees now since the company is growing so rapidly outside Japan, and they are concerned about quality in some markets. I'd like to take that class, actually. Wouldn't you?

Saturday Dec 23, 2006

The Toyota Way and Open Source

More news of Toyota taking out GM -- Toyota’s Sales Projections Show It Surpassing G.M. And more analysts are pointing to the famous "Toyota Way" business processes the company uses as the critical factor. From the Times article:

Toyota’s rise would also prove a victory of sorts for its unique corporate culture, the so-called Toyota Way, which is rooted in an obsession with craftsmanship and constant improvement, or "kaizen." Analysts said the Toyota Way would likely become enshrined as the industry’s gold standard, and the model to mimic or surpass for new challengers from South Korea and China.

"Enshrined as the industry’s gold standard, and the model to mimic," eh? That sounds like open source coming to the auto industry. After all, Toyota's processes are open, aren't they? But the notion of simply mimicking someone else's processes sounds trivial. The implementation is just as important as the source or specification of any business process. And that's much more difficult to mimic because what makes an implementation special is buried deep within the culture of every person doing the implementing. It's not necessarily secret, but it's oftentimes incomprehensible.

Tuesday Sep 12, 2006

Toyota's (Open)TPS

Really long and comprehensive article in Baseline on Toyota -- What's Driving Toyota? Nice piece, actually. I don't know where to begin since so many bits in the article interest me. How about starting with some basic business assumptions and how the Toyota Production System is defined. To quote the article:

The engine behind its success, say insiders and outsiders alike, is the Toyota Production System (TPS), a set of principles, philosophies and business processes to enable the leanest manufacturing.

And behind TPS is information technology -- supporting and enabling the business processes that help Toyota eliminate waste, operate with virtually no inventory and continually improve production.

Technology does not drive business processes at Toyota. The Toyota Production System does. However, technology plays a critical role by supporting, enabling and bringing to life on a mass scale the processes derived by adhering to TPS.

"What strikes me about Toyota is, if you were to ask them if they have a technology strategy, they would probably say no, we have a business strategy," says Philip Evans, a senior vice president at the Boston Consulting Group who has studied Toyota. "They have a very clear understanding of the role technology plays in supporting the business."

This strikes me, too, because I'm so used to focusing on the technology that the business case sometimes gets lose or the technology ends up driving the business case or obfuscating the business case. The sequence, however, seems quite clear at Toyota. But reading only this far, I thought for sure that this TPS thing must certainly be based on Toyota proprietary IP, right? It appears not. Later in the article you'll find this:

Unlike the formulas to blend Coca-Cola or the latest blockbuster drug, there is no veil of secrecy behind the Toyota Production System. In fact, Toyota openly invites general visitors and competitors alike into its plants to observe its operations and manufacturing techniques.

In 1992, it opened the Toyota Supplier Support Center in Erlanger, Ky., about an hour's drive north of the Georgetown plant, to teach other companies the principles and concepts behind TPS and to help implement TPS in their own operations. To date, it has worked with more than 100 companies as varied as office furniture maker Herman Miller, seat manufacturer Trim Masters and several hospitals. The supplier center now operates as an independent consulting firm.

It even created a joint venture with GM in 1982, taking a plant that was to be closed in Fremont, Calif., and reengineering it into a lean manufacturing facility based on TPS. That plant, renamed New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), quickly surpassed all of GM's plants in North America in productivity, quality and inventory turns. NUMMI became a living laboratory for hundreds of GM executives and now manufactures Corollas, Tacoma pickup trucks and the Pontiac Vibe.

Toyota is open with the strategy behind TPS because it wants to raise its North American suppliers up to its own level of efficiency and quality, Liker says. At the same time, it can afford to be open with its competitors because Toyota is constantly raising the bar. By the time they copy its current processes, Toyota will have moved on.

So, the business model comes first at Toyota, and technology supports the business model -- not the other way around. Then both are packaged and implemented via the TPS, which is open and enables others to benefit while Toyota profits and drives its thinking deeper into the market. And Toyota is not worried about opening up its production processes because the company is confident it can out innovate competitors and, actually, the company would like suppliers to come up to its standards. Talk about confidence. My goodness. I think I'm going to cite this example the next time someone is worried about opening their code. This has an open community dynamic to it of sharing as well as competing.

The article goes on to explain the core elements of the TPS: Just-in-Time, Jidoka, Kaizen, Andons, Poka Yokes, and Genchi Genbutsu. To me, that last one in the list is the most interesting. According to the article,

The literal translation of this term is, "Go and see for yourself." Rather than hear about a problem, Toyota requires its workers, team leaders and executives to go and see a problem directly and to work collectively on a solution.

Interesting. So, there seems to be a community dynamic occurring internally as well as externally. There are several other examples of this in the article. If Toyota were a software company, I bet they'd participate in open source, don't you think?

Back to the article ...

Together, the elements of TPS form the basis for a system of business process management that allows Toyota to continuously look for ways to optimize its operations and put thought into action. Sounds simple, but it requires a basic cultural change in an organization, and that, according to Gary Convis, can be the most difficult challenge. Convis, chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, oversees the company's manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Ky.

By the way, after his promotion, this guy Convis moved his office from the administrative building to the factory floor. The chairman. On the factory floor.

So, why can't the American car companies tap into a system like this? It obviously works pretty well since Toyota just picked off Ford and is on its way to taking down GM. Why are those guys doing so poorly while Toyota (and Honda as well) are doing so well? Especially, when at least Toyota opens its processes? I think I'm just now beginning to understand what the answer is and why Toyota isn't afraid of opening those processes. Ok, the answer is obviously massively complex -- especially when you consider American union, health care, pension issues, and missing market shifts - but perhaps a few of these elements are involved as well: (1) openness can help build markets, (2) those who open some of their stuff end up leading within those markets, (3) and the culture of pervasive quality is almost impossible to copy because it leads to unique value every time it's implemented. And by "culture" I don't necessarily mean Japanese vs American. Yes, I think the Japanese notion of quality and service is somewhat higher than what most Americans can even imagine, but it doesn't have to be that way and it wasn't always this way in the past.

Now, the article is not all rosy for Toyota. In fact, the company has actually had some tough times lately with re-calls and quality issues. But most analysts feel that things are turning around, they have confidence in the company, and they still put Toyota quality way above that of their competitors. Nevertheless, "[a]t a news conference in July, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe bowed deeply and apologized for the recall troubles. 'I take this seriously and see it as a crisis,' Watanabe said at the conference. 'I want to apologize deeply for the troubles we have caused.'"

Bowed deeply and apologized. So, perhaps I should add a touch of humility to my little list of elements to consider.

Saturday Jul 17, 2004

Contrarian Minds

Really nice to see "Contrarian Minds" go external on It had been on Sun's intranet for a few months, and I was blogging about it internally.

This is a wonderful series of articles written by my buddy in communications. But I don't see his name anywhere in the articles or on the main page. Typical. He's a humble guy. A great writer, too. I'm an absolute fan. You wouldn't believe who he's written for and the extent of his clip file. Amazing. Anyway, Contrarian Minds is a growing series of profiles of Sun's most innovative people -- Gosling, Bosak, Gage, Papadopoulos, etc --  the people who change things, the ones who see the things that most people miss. Oh, how I absolutely crave that ability and have for my entire life. Where is it? How do you access it? I have a feeling it goes way beyond just being smart (although I could use a bit more of that to help in this trek). Sun has gallons of really smart people lurking the halls causing trouble, but these contrarian types are different. Oh, they cause trouble too, sure, but they seem to transcend their Ph.Ds and their education and all the noise around them. They seem to think differently then the rest of us. Or at least me, anyway.

How do they do it? I can't wait to see who is added to the list as time goes by.

Thursday May 27, 2004

Defining Innovation too Narrowly

Here's a decent article on innovation in the New York Times. The distributor vs the innovator -- Dell vs HP. But I see no need to juxtapose the two terms "distributor" vs "innovator." Dell innovates just as much in the "marketing" and "distribution" of technology as HP innovates in the "development" of the technology itself. Why do we in high tech see innovation as something that applies only to engineering? Can't an entire business or development model be innovative? It seems to me that innovation is a process that can be applied quite naturally to multiple functions within an enterprise.



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