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What Toyota can Teach You about Personal Productivity

What Toyota can Teach You about Personal Productivity
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Toyota has become the world’s largest automobile manufacturing company this year, overtaking General Motors which reigned supreme since the 1930s. Before then, Ford was the global leader. Toyota’s market capitalization is more than five times that of Ford and General Motors combined. Toyota must have been doing something right these past 20 years since it has become the most productive manufacturer in the world. The company owns the newly created market in hybrids. Toyota’s example offers an excellent insights and a guide toward improving personal productivity.

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The two main pillars of Toyota’s approach boil down to: 1) respect for people and 2) continuous improvement; constant and never-ending improvement in all areas. Toyota made a major innovation over the American automobile manufacturers in the process of how the company viewed its people. General Motors and Ford viewed factory workers as a replaceable variable cost component – labor as a commodity. Toyota viewed its workers as the main place to turn for productivity and quality improvements. Toyota further innovated by challenging the planned obsolescence approach. The company started producing cars with fewer defects that were more durable and would hold their value longer. American car companies were forced to respond in kind by producing longer lasting, better quality cars with greatly extended warranty packages. This is not all Toyota has done in terms of process innovations. American accounting methods valued inventory the same as cash, without any incentives for reducing inventory.

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Toyota pioneered “lean manufacturing” based in large part on creating value in the eyes of the customer and having products being “pull” or demand-based that would be responsive to the customer rather than “push” or supply-based from the production end. Lean manufacturing also includes identifying and minimizing waste (including inventory), empowering employees and aiming for perfection in the processes. This is an evolutionary change in the way cars are made that is currently sweeping through the other modern manufacturing sectors of the global economy. The ‘Toyota Way’ can also be applied toward improving personal productivity. The Toyota Production System (TPS) works as a complete philosophy. It is a consistent set of processes and principles applied over a long period of time. The following principles form core parts of the highly effective TPS that can be used to enhance personal productivity.

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  • Create manual systems first, then use technology as a tool to assist the process. Toyota people are often found making signs and putting them up all over the place and using them along with manual lists to coordinate activities. Once the manual system is worked out, then technology is brought in to assist and improve the process. There is a strong aversion to acquiring and using technology just for the sake of the technology. Hold off of the expensive software until the basics are worked out.
  • Create an environment where constant learning occurs. Toyota is full of people who strive to be teachable and who are very willing to share information and be involved in the learning process. Put aside some time for focused learning – a course, book-a-week, seminars, workshops, reviewing articles, etc.
  • Eliminate – don’t just reduce waste. In the U.S. system, the production line has slack built into it so that there is extra time and stuff available to ensure the line stays running. In the Toyota system, there is not. Unplug the television set and cut the end off the cord.
  • Build quality into everything. Standardizing to create consistent quality while constantly working to raise the standards. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Aim for “great” rather than just “good enough” wherever there is opportunity to do so.
  • Create systems to respect and treat partners well. Self-improvement toward increased personal productivity is a two way street. Toyota’s people work on self improvement but consider that to be tied to helping others improve – for mutual benefit.
  • Work with others but maintain core competencies. Do not outsource the important decisions. For Toyota’s cars, electronics has become a big part so the company has decided to make that a core area. Take the time to learn the areas that can impact life. Understanding tax planning and basic financial matters are a classic area of neglect that many people should put more effort into.
  • Chose friends and associates carefully. Toyota is very picky. Employees are often hired through a one to two year process. Partners and suppliers similarly go through extensive processes. Associate with people who can help you and that you can help in a two way manner.

Toyota has pioneered its process and one of the great outcomes was becoming the world’s first mass producer of hybrid automobiles, with over half the world market for hybrids. The Toyota process itself is a hybrid of best practices that have evolved over time that can be used to enhance personal productivity.

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Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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