The competitive advantage of 1,000,000 new ideas

Toyota Factory

Employees doing the hardest work almost always have the best view of how to improve the work they do. But all too often this insight into work process is squandered simply because no one asks for their feedback. They are paid to work, not to think, no? No. Not at Toyota.

An elegant solution to a universal business problem

Toyota is world-famous for their ability to listen to their front-line workforce and extract remarkable insights from the people in the know.

Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers. (Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do.) Most of these ideas are small—making parts on a shelf easier to reach, say—and not all of them work. But cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before.

Toyota recognized the key fact that most people come up with innovation as they perform a process. That great idea about how a product could be improved, how  hiring could be sped up, how the asset disposition losses could be reduced, how marketing and sales campaigns could be made more effective – all of these come at the time of performing the process.  They literally leap into the mind and refuse to be silenced.

They almost never come while sitting meetings in the the corner office.

Getting to 1,000,000 ideas

Feedback-in-nimbusIn the past, it’s been a matter of good management and kludging together some sort of system to capture insights and lessons learned.  Most fell through the cracks. They are “Acceptable breakage” in some slow changing industries.

You gain a massive competitive advantage by being the company that can capture and convert more of these insights into new products and more efficient ways to do things. It has to be dead easy and available to everyone.

I’m a consultant that works on a daily basis with the customers who need this capability the most. . The Toyota model is my inspiration and I enjoy giving their people this power.



Tags: , ,

Categories: Continuous Improvement, Manufacturing, Process Management, Social / Collaboration

Author:Tom Molyneux

A business process strategist with a focus on real-time event management.

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8 Comments on “The competitive advantage of 1,000,000 new ideas”

  1. January 22, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    I’m a firm believer in the Toyota Way, and I love their systems for involving the front-line in improving the organization. The biggest mistake I’ve seen US companies make when adopting this type of system from Toyota is that they overshoot it.

    Too many times the US companies build a system to engage the front-line staff in what ends up being a process looking for the next big idea. Most employees don’t have the span of control to come up with and work through a “game changer”, and that isn’t the purpose Toyota had for these systems.

    They want employees to take charge of improving the things they can within their span of control. The actual process isn’t about the idea as much as it is the process the worker and their manager go through to formulate the idea, understand the impact it will have on the business, determine the priority, the best path for implementing, etc. It is about that employee/manager engagement and allowing the employee to understand how the business actual works. Not as much the idea.

    Unfortunately, most companies lose sight of that and build a “suggestion system” looking tor the next big idea. But, that seems to be the American Way! 😉

    • January 22, 2013 at 7:57 am #

      Ron, thanks for the comment. I agree that a large part of this is the corporate cultural aspect. I also agree that an approach that aims to hit a bunch of home runs rather than a steady stream of singles will aim too high and disappoint.

      However, I think the capability to easily capture the ideas, at the time they come, is critical. This is something that is missing from most of the process management systems out there. Put another way, there is simply no place to put the ideas for people who actually use the systems and hence they never get captured in the first place.

  2. Reuben
    January 24, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    this doesn’t just apply to production lines either. The process &/or tool improvement can be carried out in call centers & other front office positions to improve & finetune software to increase efficiency, user satisfaction, and customer satisfaction.
    However, this does mean that your company has to be aware of the value of users willing to devote time & effort to continuous process improvement…!
    A lot of senior managers still believe that top down is the only way for process improvement.

    • January 24, 2013 at 9:58 am #


      Thanks for the feedback. I agree that this applies way beyond production lines. Call centers that you mention as well Shared Services Organizations (SSO’s) can use the same approach to continuous improvement.

      Also spot on about top down vs. bottom up. The act of actually doing something provides a special actionable type insight that is almost impossible to get from a more theoretical approach.

  3. January 28, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    What is the screenshot in the article? Is this software that Toyota uses or something you propose they use?

  4. January 28, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    That was free photo stock and not necessarily key to the story.

    • January 28, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      I meant the software photo about a feedback example, not the factory picture.

      • January 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

        Ah, Toyota is a customer of Nimbus but that wasn’t taken from their instance.

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