Innovation Centennial

Image   This week marks the one hundredth anniversary of the introduction of a moving assembly line at Henry Ford’s Highland assembly plant, an innovation that inaugurated mass production.   Ford was not the first to build cars in an assembly line.  Ransom Olds did that first in 1902, and Ford copied him.  And, according to Ford himself, the idea to create a moving assembly line came to him while watching the moving dis-assembly line at a Chicago meatpacking plan.  But Ford put these two ideas together to create “flow manufacturing” a term he coined in the 1920’’s which is still considered innovative a century later.

Several weeks before Ford Motor Company celebrated its centennial, another hundred-year anniversary marked the passing of Eji Toyoda at age 100.  Credited with championing the entry of Toyota into U.S, Eji Toyoda was instrumental in forging a collaboration between General Motors and Toyota to form NUMMI in Fremont, California. Later, under his leadership Toyota grew in size and stature to become the standard for product excellence and customer satisfaction.

In an ironic centennial  twist, Toyoda traveled to the US in 1950 to study at Ford’s Rouge plant, considered then to be the world’s most productive auto plant.  At that time Ford employees could out produce Toyoda workers by a 700% margin.  Toyoda grasped the strength of the Ford system, particularly its emphasis on flow.   But Mr. Toyoda also noted the production system’s inherent inflexibility and, more significantly, its top down and compartmentalized decision-making.  Material flowed, but not ideas.  Quality was not confirmed at the source.  Shop floor employees were only eyes and hands.  The Ford technical approach may have been preeminent, but its social practices revealed a great weakness.  Ford’s weakness became Toyota’s strength.  Today, the “Toyota Way” developed under Eji Toyoda’s leadership is still mostly ignored by most business leaders.  The buzz is all about investment in technical innovation (a code word for automation), but there is little discussion on the innovative development of people.

How about in your organization?  Are you building employees as well as products?  Share a story.

O.L.D.

BTW:  Hope you’ll join me for my next Tea Time With The Toast Guy Webinar:

Unlearning — Overcoming Six Basic Status Quo Predispositions.

Alas, practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.  Unlearning bad management practices can be far more challenging than learning good ones. The first step to unlearning them is to recognize and acknowledge them.  My thirty-minute webinar will cover six of the biggest management preconceptions along with ideas to overcome them.  I’ll be on line from 3:00-3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15. It’s free!  Click here to register and join in.

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