Everyone wants to copy the best. That’s why companies such as Toyota and General Electric have been popular sources of benchmarking. That’s why Chrysler was so highly benchmarked when we were the most profitable car company.
In the lean community, I have observed a common practice of filtering ideas based on whether they come from Toyota, and even further, how far back they go in Toyota’s heritage. There are many problems with this, but where’s one to consider:
Toyota didn’t learn from only one source, so why should we limit ourselves in this way.
Toyota learned from Ford Motor Company, from Kroger Grocery Stores, from it’s founder, from Shigeo Shingo, from Dr. Deming, from Frank Wollard, from Training Within Industry trainers, and from any other source that they felt could help them gain an advantage.
They were willing to learn from so many sources because…
…they had big enough problems that they couldn’t let pride or ‘not-invented-here’ get in the way.
…they knew that many were outperforming them, but no one was perfect.
…they are trying to solve many, many problems, and not just one big problem. That means the more answers they have, the more problems they can solve.
…they understood, either consciously or unconsciously, that the rate of learning is the one true competitive advantage.
Both companies and individuals must keep their minds open to many sources and many methods of learning. They should learn from training, books, blogs, benchmarking, problem solving, other industries, and other fields of study. When we developed the Lean Experience course, we counted no less than 40 different individuals or fields of study that influenced our design in either it’s content or methods.
I personally try to find lessons in fields as far from my practice as possible. Most of the books I read aren’t about lean, they’re about science or history or teaching.
Don’t limit where you are learning from. If you want to practice this behavior, when you find yourself in a conversation with someone that seems to have nothing over you, make a concerted effort to learn something from them. Do this enough, and learning will happen naturally.
Also, those in the lean community must stop using Toyota as a proxy on what works and what doesn’t work. They do not have a monopoly on excellence. This is why we’ve ‘stolen’ practices from many different organizations such as the U.S. Army and our clients as well. Keep an open mind. The next great idea might be right around the corner.