Japanese Automakers and Innovation

By Deane Barker on November 18, 2008

I’ve read two articles in the last couple days about Japanese automakers — Toyota and Honda. Both were complimentary about their training and engineering practices. Both are worth reading:

  • Engineers Rule
    At American auto companies, finance guys and marketers rise to the top. Not at Honda.

  • What Toyota knows that GM doesn’t
    […] while … employees were not manufacturing automobiles, they were in training. They were doing safety drills, participating in productivity improvement exercises, attending presentations on material handling and workplace hazards, taking diversity and ethics classes, attending maintenance education and taking a stream of online tests to measure and record their skill improvements.

The second one, about Toyota, really speaks to me. I truly believe that the great companies spend downturns tooling up for the recovery. This is when you invest in training, R&D, and innovation. The economy will recover, and if Blend experiences a slowdown, we’ll won’t spend it sitting around.



  1. American companies seem to be similar in how they react during “downturns” – layoff everyone they can to immediately save money. Of course this –

    1. impacts customer service
    2. immediately removes years of experience and knowledge that can never be easily replaced
    3. creates fear and uncertainty among the remaining employees, in addition to more work for the same salary (they should just feel lucky it wasn’t them who was laid off and be more than willing to work harder)

    But it does –

    1. immediately save money and look good to investors, which is typically how the top dawgs are compensated anyway
    2. saves the senior management from slashing their own excessively bloated paychecks
    3. redirects blame to inefficient line level employees and middle managers because obviously we are now doing more with less…rather than taking a hard look at the upper level management that created the mess in the first place and continued to let it grow unchecked.

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