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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: Overburdening the innovative capacity of the organization

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Friday, February 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Dear Colleagues,

What went wrong with Toyota is the flip side of what went right over so many decades. In the late 1950s or 1960s, Toyota was a pretty cruddy car company. The variety was meager, quality was poor, and their production efficiency was abysmal.

Yet by the time they hit everyone’s radar in the 1980s, they had very high quality and unmatched productivity. The way they got there was by creating within Toyota exceptionally aggressive learning. They taught employees specialties, but more importantly, they taught people to pay very close attention to the “weak signals” the products and processes were sending back about design flaws, and then responding with high-speed, compressed learning cycles to take things that were poorly understood and convert them into things that were understood quite deeply.

That allowed Toyota to come from behind, race through the pack, and establish itself as the standard-setter on quality and efficiency and complex technology. But since then, things have affected Toyota in terms of their ability to sustain this kind of aggressive learning.

These include:

· A rapid expansion in the number of people who had to be developed into aggressive learners with faster rates of business growth.

· A rapid increase in the need for aggressive learning as the technological complexity of products and plants increased as well.

For more on this problem of overburdening the innovative capacity of an organization, please see my interview, “3 Questions: Steven Spear on Toyota’s Troubles <http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/3q-spear.html> ,” conducted by the MIT News Office.

Best wishes,

Steve Spear

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