Simple thinking: Toyota’s winning strategy by Suf Alkhaldi

Challenge your mind with simple questions

One of the best ways to think about a problem is to have a simple thought or idea. To solve a problem, our mind should focus on simplicity. Instead of focusing on the whole problem which may be overwhelming, we should divide it into smaller pieces.  By doing this, we gain insight into solving them. The human mind finds solutions to simple problems quite efficiently. When our mind crunches complex variables of information, simplicity disappears and our neurocircuits are flooded with an ocean of neurotransmitters creating brain fog, hindering our ability to think.  Unlike machines, our mind is the product of beautiful biological evolutions over thousands of years, far smarter than any artificial intelligence robot like in the movie “Chappie”.  Our human nature drives us to seek simple solutions to understand complex problems.

Toyota’s simple concept

The founder of Toyota Mr. Ohno’s use of the Kaizen method to increase the quality of car manufacturing is the epitome of simplicity. Solving a small problem using a strategy shaped by Toyota, Mr. Ohno wanted to increase the quality of his cars without investing a lot of money. The simple question was: how can we increase the quality of Toyota cars without spending a lot of money? When we simplify a problem, amazingly, to answer one short question, the solution becomes clear. Apparently, Mr, Ohno was familiar with the Kaizen method to solve the problem.  He came up with the idea of increasing the quality with a minimum cost by placing a cord at each step along the assembly line. After spending little money and effort, Toyota workers were given the authority to pull a cord (which was available to every single assembly line Toyota worker) to bring the line to a halt when the workers noticed a defect. Toyota managers made sure that the engineers, suppliers, and line workers solved the problem as soon as it appeared – no reports, no meetings, and no delays. In a way, everyone at Toyota discovered the defect, everyone solved it. The idea created an anomaly to the concept of mass production, first introduced by Henry Ford in 1908.  When Mr. Ford built the first model T, decreasing the price to $825, a relatively simple idea was the source of the solution: the assembly line. Similarly and probably using the same creativity strategy, Mr. Ohno increased the manufacturing quality of the car with the lowest costs by introducing the pulling cord idea, an overwhelmingly winning concept. This simple idea was the best strategy to build quality cars.

Training our mind to produce simple questions

The ability to ask the simple question is an art.  To simplify a problem first needs deep understanding. It needs weeding out of non-related facts by zeroing in on the solution without distraction. The second step comes by suggesting a solution without the fear of being embarrassed by simplicity. Most of the time, when people consider simplifying a problem by asking simple questions, resistance and push back appear from many individuals, including fear in our brain. Somehow having a complex problem means you belong to an elite club! This notion is far from the truth. Complex solutions are poor strategies for solving big problems.

Adopt a simple reward

Many books talk about small rewards. If you watch “The Biggest Loser” or if you have ever tried to lose weight following any diet, and I am sure you have or you will at some time in your life, you will see the small reward concept.  Don’t increase the reward:  this is very important because your plan will backfire, causing you to lose focus and perhaps resulting in another problem.  The book “Punishment by Reward” by Alfie Kohn dives very deeply into this topic: The reward should be very specific in order for it to work. I can’t emphasize enough about the specificity and the size of the reward. There is a great YouTube video “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” which highlights the correlation between motivation and reward research. It is a must to watch.

Pay attention to simple and small things

If you watch the TV show “Shark Tank”, you will discover that many inventions of old and young entrepreneurs alike pay attention to small problems. For example, the inventor of Coffee Joulies found his coffee either too hot or cold because coffee does not stay at the same temperature for a long time. When Coffee Joulies are added to a coffee mug, the coffee temperature stays at 37° C for three hours, creating an enjoyable coffee experience. Another example is an app developer who came up with an app to test the emotional state of people during the day, which he eventually licensed to an insurance company, successfully. As you examine apps, you will discover each app solved a simple problem.

To finish my post, training our minds to produce simple questions and to solve simple problems leads to successful outcomes — but don’t think this will come naturally. We should follow a deliberate effort to train our minds on simple thinking.

1 Comment

  1. Sally March 8, 2015 at 8:00 am

    It’s totally true. I think all of us fall in that trap. It’s a problem. We should be stress, worried, and lost. We don’t think about the solution as much we think about the problem itself. Problems usually is like a pyramid. Most of us look direct to the top of the pyramid instead of starting from the bottom. Where we can start step by step.
    Thank you for all what you posted. It has a big impact on my life.


Leave a Reply