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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: We Don’t Think About Standards the Way Toyota Does

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  Standards are often described as ‘the best way known to perform a certain task’. How do you change a standard?

We spent from approximately 2004-2009 researching how Toyota managers think. (You can’t figure it out by asking them, btw.) Based on those investigations I can say that this sort of “standard = best way” question probably wouldn’t make much sense to an experienced Toyota person. Their paradigm is just too different. What we found out about how Toyota people think about standards looks more like this:

This paradigm immediately and automatically leads to two fundamental questions:

  1. Where do you want to be next?
  2. Where are you now?

This is what Toyota people mean — what they see in their minds — when they say standards function “as a basis for comparison” or as a “principle that is used as a basis for judgment”. Do you see how changing the ‘standard’ is already baked into question 1? Can you see how asking, “How do you change a standard?” is practically irrelevant in this case?

If you keep asking questions 1 & 2 and are blessed with a scientific mindset, your thinking pretty quickly expands to something like these five questions, which characterize a repeatable process, or kata:

  1. Where do you want to be next?
  2. Where are you now?
  3. What’s preventing you from getting there?
  4. What’s your next step?
  5. When can we see what we’ve learned from taking that step?

A Western brain (your brain and my brain) will have been trained to think that normal = stable or certain, whereas an Eastern brain will have been trained to think that normal = dynamic or uncertain. What’s ironic about this is that the source of the English word “Standard” is apparently the following dynamic concept, which mimics the diagram above:

STANDARD, mid-12th Century:  “Flag or other conspicuous object to serve as a rallying point for a military force.”

Mike

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