Will Toyotaoism replace Fordism?

January 5, 2007

250px-lao_tzu_-_project_gutenberg_etext_15250.jpgSometime in 2007, Toyota seems likely to become the World’s biggest auto manufacturer. According to Professor Fangqi Xu, the 21st Century will be an era in which the Fordist principles of production will be replaced by a more creative leadership style. I suggest Toyotaoism would be an appropriate term for characterizing the emerging Post-Fordist era.

Sometime in 2007, Toyota seems likely to become the World’s biggest auto manufacturer. In contrast, Ford workers face substantial job cuts. Toyota represents one of the outstanding illustrations of developments which have been gradually refining and replacing the production line processes and mentality of the 20th Century.

The company has pioneered a fusion of Fordist methods with a more Eastern philosophy of respect towards the environment, customers, and employees. The fostering of empowered teamwork in Toyota is a central element of the philosophy, production system, and leadership style of the corporation.

Beyond Lean Production

In broad terms, the Toyota system has been equated with the arrival of lean production and subsequent higher efficiency gains. This has simplified out the production gains from the deeper philosophical implications. These bring the system closer in spirit to the European experiments in socio-technical systems design at Volvo, itself briefly hailed as a revolutionary innovation for manufacturing. However, insiders argued that Volvo’s experiment failed in face of ‘Toyotism’.

The best-known Western account of the Toyota system is arguably from the MIT researchers led by James Womack. Their study raised popular awareness of Toyota’s Just in Time system, and the broader concept of Lean Production.

From Toyotism to Toyotaoism

I would like to propose the acceptance of a slightly different term for the significance of the changes implied by the Toyota approach. Rather than the narrower perspective of Toyotism, I suggest Toyotaoism. The term hints at a philosophy that goes beyond a shift in production system. The philosophy is particularly appropriate in its Eastern origins. Western authors have already simplified some of the principles in The Tao of Leadership.

One leading scholar has been developing this idea is Professor Fangqi Xu of Jiangsu Polytechnic University, China. Professor Xu is the Director of International Connectionas of Japan Creativity Society, and also a student of Ikujiro Nonaka, the renowned Knowledge theorist. Professor Xu has made a detailed study of creativity courses around the world. His studies have convinced him that the 21st Century will be an era in which the Fordist principles of production will be replaced by a more creative management style.


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