Thursday, January 19, 2006

Source Reduction

Who uses it: Chemical and environmental engineers.
What it means: A strategy of reducing pollution by redesigning manufacturing or other systems so as to reduce any waste from being produced at all—in contrast to so-called “end-of-the-pipe” approaches that treat waste and pollution downstream.
How you can use it: To refer to a powerful new way of looking at and solving a problem.

Tomorrow I will post a list of What I Read This Week. (Though to be fair, I’m going to call it What I Read This Month. Under my math, one week of reading time for Ellen is roughly approximate to one month of reading time for us mere mortals.)

In the meantime, a propos of today’s quote, I’m going to tout a fairly obscure book, but one which I highly recommend for anyone interested in how a company develops a powerfully new way of operating that creates sustained excellence. I’m writing a proposal for a business book, and in the process realized how much one book means to me. For the past year and a half I’ve studied Toyota, and its famed Toyota Production System, referred to as lean production, and remain in awe of what it does. So here’s a passage from the proposal. To me, one of the most important business books written is Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, by Taiichi Ohno, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Here’s why:

Toyota is the most successful company in the world of the past 25 years.
Google, Microsoft, and Dell may be sexier, have had better isolated quarters, and symbolize for some a new form of competition. Yet no other company has performed at Toyota’s level in what is arguably the most important industry in the world. The company has grown its market share in almost every country throughout the world, delivered consistently superior performance (i.e. profits) on a sustained basis for decades, and has done so without slipping from its disciplined goals and values.

Toyota is the most teachable company that matters.
As opposed to trendy Quantum laws of competition—i.e. those that guide a miniscule number of companies who don’t operate in our Newtonian world, the Toyota principles are crucial to everyone. No major global manufacturer has kept competitive without learning the key principles of TPS. The system is indispensable. Yet this is just the beginning: as Womack/Jones, Spear, and Liker are brilliantly showing, the applications of lean thinking are even more powerful in white collar work such as services and knowledge work.

Toyota’s system addresses the most important challenges for all businesses today.
At its very core, the Toyota system is not about making better cars—far from it. The heart of the system is producing problem-solvers. That’s right, let everyone else talk about empowerment and people and so forth. Toyota’s operations rely on the full participation and development of the people doing the work. The company exemplifies systems doing rather than systems thinking, operational learning as opposed to organizational learning.

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