Innovation -The Only Winning Way for Manufacturing Sector

I am quoting below (in Box) a story by Matthew May, a former senior advisor to Toyota University, the author of The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, and the director of the innovation firm Aevitas. It appears in one article in Strategy-Business, ‘Innovation Agility’. Every one in manufacturing sector must make it a point to go through it.

China and India are having healthy competition to win the world market. China after shadowing the global manufacturing supremacy is trying to get into and capture the automobile sector too. As on today, the Japanese are at the helm in auto sector with some of European automakers. Toyota has become now the largest automobile producer of the world leaving behind the reigning supremo, General Motors.

Indian manufacturing sector too has gone for total revival in last few years. Its auto sector with Tata Motors and M&M as major Indian players, is trying to come in the race. While in volume production, the Chinese are far ahead, many feel the Indian manufacturing sector has followed and assimilated Japanese system of manufacturing better. Indian manufacturers are not copycats, and simultaneously more robust and quality-biased. India is in better position to provide quality products to the global market. Indian players must make the Toyota as its benchmark for its strategy about innovation that can win them the competition.

No one at Toyota was shocked when company president Katsuaki Watanabe announced to Wall Street and the rest of the world in the latter part of 2005 that he had ordered his research chief, Masatami Takimoto, to find a way to cut in half the price difference between Toyota’s hybrid cars and similar gasoline models without compromising any of the current quality standards, features, or performance. Watanabe’s comment: “I assume Mr. Takimoto must be racking his brains about how to do that.”

Toyota has for decades strategically set ambitious objectives in just this way – deliberately pitting seemingly incompatible goals against each other. Why? Because these competing targets cannot all be met without innovative thinking. The artful setting of opposing “stretch goals” builds a creative tension that fuels innovation by requiring a harmonious resolution.

For example, when Lexus Chief Engineer Ichiro Suzuki announced in 1987 that the secret vehicle under development for the U.S. luxury market must best, not match, the iconic BMW 735i in every rated performance category – speed, weight, styling, acceleration, noise, handling, comfort, and fuel efficiency. The army of more than 5,000 designers, engineers, and technicians reacted unanimously: impossible! Greater speed and acceleration conflicted directly with fuel efficiency, noise, and weight, because higher speed and acceleration required a more powerful engine, which in turn is bigger and heavier, thus making more noise and consuming more fuel. A smooth, quiet ride (associated with heavier weight) conflicted directly with better handling at high speed. And at the time, luxury styling didn’t have today’s streamlined look, so refinement and high-speed stability conflicted directly with aerodynamic drag. In short, the targets were thought to be individually attainable, but collectively unachievable.

Yet when the Lexus LS400 made its debut in 1989, it was five decibels quieter, 120 pounds lighter, and 17 miles per hour faster (according to Car and Driver) than its designated rival. It also got four-plus more miles to the gallon, and had better handling, acceleration, and comfort, while retailing for $30,000 less. Suzuki’s willingness to maintain tension among various competing targets, combined with his refusal to compromise, had made a difference.

Similarly, when Toyota began to develop a futuristic gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the early 1990s, senior leaders employed a new and unique internal design strategy: Pit Toyota’s various design centers against one another in a competition for the best design. The winner, as judged by a panel, would be awarded the project. That winner, the Prius, eventually made its production debut at the 1997 Kyoto conference on global warming.

The strategy proved so successful in generating an innovative product that today Toyota’s three major design facilities – located in Tokyo; Newport Beach, Calif. (near Los Angeles); and Brussels – compete to design every new model. Kevin Hunter, who currently heads the Newport Beach-based design studio, a subsidiary called Calty Design Research Inc., confirms the value of the competition: “It sets up a competitive edge. There’s much more of an intense focus and awareness when you know that nothing is being handed to you, that you have to win the business. You have to do your most excellent work. You have no choice: You have to deliver a perfect proposal.”

This stretch goal approach contains its own inherent challenges. Toyota is now developing ways to balance its stretch goal system with its own deliberate and distinctive quality consciousness.
When I read this story, I was reminded of Ratan Tata directive to the designers of ‘Indica car’- a car as roomy and sturdy as Ambassador, and as fuel efficient and cheap as Maruti 800. And they made it happen. Even some of the initial problems were also handled very smartly. Tata Motors are trying to do that again with Rs 1-lakh car after successfully launching its wonderful mini-truck ACE.

Can others in manufacturing sector emulate the Toyota methods to repeat Tata Motors success story with their product innovations?

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