We have grown accustomed to seeing and measuring the waste of money and materials. We are less competent at seeing the waste of time, capacities, opportunities, and, oh, humans.
Thanks to Japanese industrial engineer and businessman Taiichi Ono, considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System, we have what we in the West now call “Lean,” “just-in-time logistics,” “Six Sigma,” and more.
Ohno was once a student of Henry Ford’s industrial model. Ford’s model was designed by engineers to minimize the opportunities for human error, standardizing the production system so workers were interchangeable, and to maximize speed in the coordination of work.
Ohno built a production system that was centered in processes that built the capacity of each person on the production floor so they would take responsibility for the quality and coordination of their work. His quality movement required a very different partnership-oriented work culture, a higher level of competence in his workers, and hinged on the assumption that people derived personal value from contributing to the improvement of products, processes, and the profitability of the company. Do you see what I see? No? Okay, here’s the value I saw in my involvement in the Toyota Production System while living in Japan:
Ohno was both brilliant and ahead of his time. He seemed to intuitively grasp that the wastes that are important for particular moments in time change. For example, he declared that “inventories are waste” at a time when inventories were considered an asset. More importantly, he seemed to understand that ignoring a human’s potential was the greatest waste of all. Wasted movement, time, and resources was in the context of the industrial revolution, manufacturing, and mass production.
Humanity has evolved in many significant ways. The modern human wants and is driven by purpose, mastery, and autonomy. He asks, “To what extent were my behaviors and choices the result of conditioning? Who or what had its hand on the remote? Whose agenda was I living?”
Culture is about purpose. Competence is about mastery. Contribution is about autonomy.
Without saying it so plainly, Ohno was instrumental in helping us transition out of the industrial revolution. We are no longer living in that world. We call our new world the exponential era. In this new era, culture, competence, and contribution isn’t just a nice idea, it’s the only way to survive and thrive. The most effective organizations take a relational approach to the development of their employees’ careers.
With this view, work ceases to be a meaningless toil under the sun and becomes a source of profound meaning, inspiration, and impact. This new way of working offers us the opportunity to proceed to the agenda of our heart. What people want, need, and desire in a career is not a simple variable. The path with a heart is a complex construct of intertwined desires. Welcome to the new, indispensable art of genius sculpting. We are not naïve enough to think that this new way of working will happen all by itself overnight.