Better and Different

Toyota: Better or Different?,Lean Blog commenting on Seth Godin’s post

The answer, as I see it, is to be better and different (when necessary). In Seth’s post he talks about challenging people to find not just better solutions but different solutions. That is fine, as long as people don’t lose focus on being better. Neither one alone is adequate (at least not always). To achieve great success you must be both better and different. That is what Toyota does.

Frankly, if you have to choose one, just being better will work most of the time. The problem is (using an example from Deming, page 9 New Economics) when, for example, carburetors are eliminated by innovation (fuel injectors) no matter how well you make them you are out of business.

Often people mistake Deming’s ideas as only about being better. He stressed not only continual improvement (Kaizen, incremental improvement, SPC) but also innovation. He stressed innovation both in the normal sense of innovating new products for customers and also innovation in managing the organization.

If innovation will be poorly executed (because your organization doesn’t do things better – just differently) you can buy some time until others can adapt to the innovation, but that is all. Unless you also do things better you will not succeed for long.

I see so many examples of failing to practice obvious better methods: methods that have existed for decades. While, at times, the best outcome would result from finding a different way don’t fail to make sensible improvements in the meantime. At least adopt the better methods that are known (doing so is fairly easy compared to inventing new ways of doing things) until different ways are adopted.

Toyota is a great example of doing both. So are Google and Apple. But doing things differently also means taking risks and Apple has suffered in the past. Doing things differently is great as long it is the right differently (which isn’t always easy to judge).