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What We Can All Learn From Toyota

Toyota GR Offroad Rally
Photo by Martin Katler on Unsplash

The secret is out: Toyota makes pretty good cars. In fact, they are now the largest car producers on Earth. They are also one of the most trusted brands out there. We may not always see eye to eye with Scotty Kilmer, but he does have a point. 

There is a core philosophy to the Toyota company that helped them get to where they are now. Today, let’s take a look at it, and see if we can apply it to our own lives. 

A History of Reliability

You don’t have to take our word for it, though. There are a ton of great examples that show the world just how reliable Toyotas are. 

The Hilux

The most famous Toyota probably isn’t the Tom’s Castrol Supra, or the Orange Supra, or even the Panda 86. It’s probably the Hilux that Top Gear tried to destroy

They crashed it into a tree, let it get washed out to see, and finally dropped it off a building. Against all odds, it still started and moved under its own power. 

Unfortunately, we never got the diesel Hilux in the states. We had to opt instead for the 22RE powered Hilux that was simply called the “Toyota Pickup.” Fortunately, the 22R series engines are still indestructible, as is the entire truck, which is why they still fetch an absolute premium on the used market despite being ancient, under powered, and very beat up. 

Crossing the Desert

Speaking of Top Gear, we have a question for you. If you had to drive across the African desert in order to film some crazy people doing stunts in cars or cross the South American jungle in order to serve as a backup vehicle, what car would you choose?

It’s not really a hypothetical, the top gear film crew uses Toyota Land Cruisers

In fact, you can’t really go anywhere where Toyota SUVs aren’t. They are simply the number one vehicle for exploring since so many people believe in their reliability. 

The Million Mile Lexus

The 1UZ powered Lexus LS400 is one of the best cars ever built. It was an engineering marvel when it was first created, and it has absolutely stood the test of time. No car represents it better than the “Million Mile Lexus.” 

It’s a car you have probably heard of. It has been featured in a bunch of YouTube videos, including videos from its owner Matt Farah. He even famously got a speeding ticket in it when it was well on its way to the mythical million miles. 

Which really sells us on the whole mythical reliability factor. Matt felt completely comfortable speeding on the highway in a car from the early 90s that had 999,000 on the clock. We wouldn’t feel comfortable speeding in a 90s Ford if it was fresh from the factory. 

2JZ

Then there’s the Mark IV Supra. We know it’s a meme, but there’s a reason that meme is so prevalent. The 2JZ GTE is a really amazing engine. 

It also exemplifies Toyota engineering. It’s insanely over-built, but under-tuned. It didn’t do anything new. There wasn’t anything untested on the engine; turbocharged inline sixes with overhead cams are practically prehistoric. 

That led to an engine that could be tuned to the moon. You can’t kill them, they want more boost, and they are easy to work on. It’s the holy trifecta of engine design. It’s also the reason that you wouldn’t blink an eye at seeing a Supra with 800 horsepower, even though it’s fairly abnormal for a normal car to even approach those figures without all the money in the world. 

Ok, so those are all well and good, but what makes Toyota so amazing? 

The Mighty Toyota Truck
Photo by Dusty Barnes on Unsplash

The Toyota Philosophy

A lot of things, actually. It mostly starts at their core. Their entire philosophy; one that they have had since they were created nearly a century ago. 

Innovate, Prove, Implement 

First, they are willing to pioneer techniques. However, they don’t actually implement the technology until it’s been proven. It’s like that Toyota Truck we mentioned above. They didn’t build the first truck, but they did look into proven technologies that helped make it even better. 

The Hilux had box frames, because that’s what worked in the deserts of Africa. It had a low revving, high torque engine so that it wouldn’t be stressed, because that’s what helped military vehicles last forever. It’s made from parts that were used in other Toyotas, because Toyota already knew how to make them, and make them cheaply. 

There is a glue that holds the entire philosophy together. Three key things that dictate the entire Toyota Production System

Jidoka 

Jidoka is where it starts. Toyota sort of invented the word – it’s a smashup of Human and Automation. It means that all things Toyota starts with the human. 

Specifically, it starts with humans asking why. As in, why did that fail? Why did that succeed? Why can’t this be better? 

All Toyota vehicles start with humans building them. Before the Hilux went into the production line, before they built the machines that built all the trucks, a bunch of actual live people built one. That way they knew what would happen, how to fix it, and were able to ask all of these whys. 

Kaizen

Once the first one is out, the human interaction continues with Kaizen. Kaizen is basically incremental change for the better, and it’s rooted in every person working in Toyota.

It doesn’t matter if you are the person sweeping the floor or the CEO, everyone can always be looking for places to improve. If a worker thinks that a car could be .01% better by including an extra weld? Everyone stops and considers it.

The result is that things are continuously improving along every aspect of the Toyota assembly line. 

Kanban

Finally, there’s Kanban. It means “just in time,” and when applied to business, it means “lead pull system.” As in, nothing gets built until it’s needed. 

The root of the word Kanban simply means “visual signal.” On Toyota’s early assembly lines, there was an issue with too many parts cluttering up spaces while other spaces were running out of what they needed to finish the cars. 

To alleviate all the chaos, they implemented lights, or visual signals, to show clearly when parts are getting low. The bins only get replenished when the lights are on, which prevents the bins from overflowing while preventing people from running out. 

These three philosophies have helped carry Toyota into the modern era as the largest car manufacturer, as well as one of the most trusted. 

And they can help you, too. 

Applying The Toyota Production Method to Your Life

We don’t think we’re out of line in saying that a lot of people are looking for ways to improve their day to day. Maybe you want to be more productive, or just want to feel better about your directions in life. 

Remember the Person

At the core of Jidoka is the person. That’s you. If you aren’t taking care of yourself first, everything you do after may fall apart. The human is the common element in all things, right? The things we create are created for people. 

In today’s age of computers and algorithms, though, it’s easy to forget that. Hustle Culture often means sacrificing the self for the good of production, and AI’s dictate what does or doesn’t work out. 

At the end of the day, though, just like the Toyota engineers that plan and pre-correct problems before they go into production, you can’t participate in hustle culture or appease the AI if your pre-productions aren’t ready. 

You won’t be able to produce amazing products if they start out from a broken place. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat healthier, and consider taking a walk to clear your head. Heal yourself first, then make a product. 

Incremental Change is Good

Kaizen teaches us that change over time works. You might sometimes feel lost and feel like you need one big change to solve everything. Or you might feel stuck in a rut, doing the same thing over and over again. 

By implementing Kaizen into your life, you can work towards better things at your own pace. You won’t risk burning out by trying to do everything at once, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls of being stuck in routine by making small changes. 

Just think about one thing you do every day that could be a little bit better. Maybe it’s as simple as adding one rep to your workout, or texting a friend for moral support. Over time, all those little changes add up and become major improvements. 

If You Don’t Need It, Don’t Buy It

Finally, there’s Kanban. This is perhaps the easiest to conceptualize, but the hardest to implement. We live in a society of excess. Material goods are what the media tells you will dictate your entire worth. 

It’s not really true, though, is it? Buying so many apples that half of them spoil before you can eat them doesn’t make you happier. In fact, it probably makes you feel worse. 

Kanban means waiting to buy something until you actually need it. We could wax philosophical about how fleeing from American Consumerism is good for your spiritual state or whatever, but honestly it’s a bit more simple than that.

By not wasting money, you’ll have more money. Money is a shortcut to opportunity, and we could all use more of that. 

The “You” Production System

We are all basically production factories. We produce art, emotions, services that we trade for money, and more. There’s no reason not to apply what we can learn from the best to ourselves. 

Ken Steinberger
I swear officer, I had no idea the speed limit wasn't 120mph.
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