The Ninth Waste -- Saying No

Oct. 8, 2007
Encouraging new ideas (saying yes) is one of the pillars of Toyota's success.

Toyota Motor Corp. pursues excellence relentlessly and clearly focuses on continuous improvement through the elimination of non-value-adding wastes.

Traditionally, Toyota has defined seven wastes:

1. Defects

2. Waiting

3. Motion

4. Transportation

5. Inventory (finished goods)

6. Overproduction (work-in-process); and

7. Extra processing.

Years ago, I added an eighth waste -- the underutilized talents of workers -- and started to write and teach about Quick and Easy Kaizen, a marvelous technique developed in Japan to open up people's hidden creative talent. At one time, Toyota was receiving 70 improvement ideas per worker per year. (In 1989 I published a book titled 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas -- The Toyota Suggestion System by Yuzo Yasuda.)

Today, I see a desperate need to address a ninth waste: manager's resistance to change.

"Failure to change is a vice! I want everyone at Toyota to change and at least do not be an obstacle for someone else who wants to change."

-- Hiroshi Okuda, Senior Advisor, board member and former chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.

Go ahead, present a new idea to your manager that can save your company a great deal of money, and see what kind of reaction you get! It's my experience that 90% of managers will say "No!" They believe this is safer than saying yes. They probably are thinking: "Somehow, I got through yesterday without changing. Why rock the boat and make waves today?" Also, most managers have a talent for finding some minor flaw in everything, and since no idea is perfect, this might play a role in the idea being rejected.

When I was younger, my father never said yes. One Saturday my friend Eli came by and asked if I would like to go to the movies with him. I really didn't want to go, but I did not want to say no to him. So while Eli was standing close by, I turned to my father and asked, "Dad, can I go to the movies with Eli?" Naturally, without even lifting his head out of the newspaper, my father said no. Eli left, and a few minutes later my father lowered the newspaper and asked me what I had said to him. I told him that I asked if he would let me go to the movies with Eli.

"Well, why didn't you go?" he said.

"Because you said no to me," I answered.

Then my father got annoyed at me. He felt guilty and knew that I had played a game with him. His reasoning was that he always said no, and it was up to me to determine if the no was real or not.

Most managers act just like my father, feeling that their role is to always say no because it is safer. (This is behind the old adage, "It is easier to ask for forgiveness then permission.")

But always saying no goes against lean thinking. Consider that Toyota has two pillars of success: Just-In-Time -- the elimination of the non-value-adding wastes, and Respect for People. The latter is empowering people -- all workers -- to be part of the ongoing continuous improvement process. This is achieved by encouraging all workers to "pull the cord" (immediately stop work -- yours and your fellow workers' -- whenever a problem is detected). The best time to detect a problem and solve it is when the problem occurs. This is sometimes called "first-time quality" or "quality at the source." The monetary value of this practice has been proved over and over again inside and outside of Toyota.

Equally powerful is empowering all workers to come up with small ideas to make their work easier, more interesting and to build their skills and capabilities. Look, General Motors knows all about Toyota's seven wastes but somehow cannot keep up with Toyota. Why? They still underutilize people's hidden creative talents, and they have set a top-down management structure that prevents change from happening quickly.

Bottoms-up management, the Japanese approach, clearly puts the decision-making process at the point of the most knowledge, not the most power. If a Japanese worker comes up with a new idea that will save the company money, the worker does not have to ask for permission from a boss. The worker with the idea will discuss it with fellow workers and study all of the ramifications of how the new idea will affect others. He or she will inform the superior of the problem and the recommended solution -- but this is a courtesy to keep the boss informed and is not an attempt for approval.

Taiichi Ohno, former vice president of production at Toyota, would hardly ever tell someone to "do something." He would always ask questions to lead them to the required action. Even when he knew the answer, he would not give it. Every request of him would cause him to ask the person a question to lead the person to make the right decision for Toyota. His job was to challenge.

"We don't need warehouses"

One day, when he was chairman of Toyota Gosei, a Toyota supplier, he turned to a group of workers looking at a warehouse building and said, "At Toyota, we don't need warehouses. Get rid of this warehouse. Make it into a machine shop and retrain everyone in it to be a mechanic. I will give you one year to do it." He did not tell them how to do it. He then walked away, smiling. Of course, the managers were petrified. But, they acted. One year later, the building was turned into a machine shop and everyone was retrained as mechanics.

"Something is wrong if workers do not look each day, find things that are tedious or boring, and then rewrite the procedures. Even last month's manual should be out of date."

- Taiichi Ohno, former vice president of production at Toyota Motor Corp.

Quick and Easy Kaizen is a very simple and powerful technique that empowers workers to be involved in daily improvement activities. The average company in Japan saves $4,000 per year per worker because of a constant flow of ideas. Why aren't all managers jumping on the bandwagon and following this important process? Instead they go after Six Sigma and kaizen blitzes, or send work to China. It is easier (and less courageous) to do these things than to change management style to one that supports independent thought and encourages new ideas.

I know it is not easy to change, but that is the major role of today's managers: They must overcome their resistance and lead their companies to success, starting with not being afraid of saying "Yes."

Norman Bodek is the former owner of Productivity Inc. Press and is now a consultant, keynote speaker and the author of: The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen, Kaikaku - The Power and Magic of Lean, Rebirth of American Industry (with Bill Waddell), and All You Gotta Do Is Ask (with Chuck Yorke). Norman also recently published JIT IS FLOW by Hiroyuki Hirano and Makato Furuya. He will soon be publishing -- with ENNA Corp. -- a "new" book by Dr. Shigeo Shingo -- Kaizen and the Art of Creative Management.

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