Unused employee creativity

I’ve been reading about the Toyota Production System (TPS) recently. As everyone knows, one of its key principles is eliminating waste in the production system. Waste is defined much more broadly than you might first assume, but it makes sense: anything that doesn’t add value to the customer is waste.

As I looked down the list of eight sources of waste, one of them caught my attention:

  1. Overproduction
  2. Waiting (time on hand)
  3. Unnecessary transport of goods
  4. Over-processing or incorrect processing
  5. Excess inventory
  6. Unnecessary movement of staff
  7. Defects
  8. Unused employee creativity

I wasn’t expecting “unused employee creativity” to be considered, let alone to be given equal footing to the other types. There’s a tendency to think of Toyota and TPS as extremely conservative and valuing of strict procedures, and not at all open to creativity.

I think what brings these two concepts together is another Toyota principle:

“Make decisions slowly, considering all the possibilities. Act quickly.”

The decision process is conservative by virtue of taking its time and requiring evidence before something is changed, not by virtue of considering a small number of possibilities.

For a long time I’ve felt that there is a false dichotomy between the popular visions of small dynamic start-ups and conservative larger companies. Perhaps this example provides a useful model how companies can be exceptions to this rule.

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