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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I highly recommend his book to all who want to practice innovation as a way of doing business. In the foreword, Kevin Roberts writes that Toyota is "the quintessential postindustrial organization" which has "a highly structured and systematized culture that is also a hotbed of individual creativity." Matthew May was hired by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. to design and deliver education for the University of Toyota that would translate the innovative methods of the Toyota Production System into something that could be used by knowledge workers. It took May five years to accomplish the process. According to May, at Toyota it is the quest for the elegant solution the shapes true innovation. In his book, May not only defines the elegant solution but also tells the reader how to achieve innovation in his or her own work.

In addition to Kevin Roberts' foreword The Elegant Solution contains the following chapter divisions:

Backstory: One Million Ideas

Introduction: In Search of Elegance

Part 1: Principles

1. The Art of Ingenuity

2. The Pursuit of Perfection

3. The Rhythm of Fit

Part 2: Practices

4. Let Learning Lead

5. Learn to See

6. Design for Today

7. Think in Pictures

8. Capture the Intangible

9. Leverage the Limits

10. Master the Tension

11. Run the Numbers

12. Make Kaizen Mandatory

13. Keep it Lean

Part 3. Protocol

14. The Clamshell Strategy

15. The Elegant Solution

Afterword: Word of Encouragement

In his Backstory: One Million Ideas, May writes that the world needs his book on innovation because it needs a book that is different, that looks at innovation in a new way and that helps with us with our daily work. May tells us that Toyota "implements a million ideas a year." In May's opinion the one million business ideas implemented each year is why Toyota's market value is larger than GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and Volkswagen combined. May's basic proposition is that the "quest for the elegant solution shapes true innovation." He says that the "formula for the solution is an amalgam of principles, practices and protocol." But the individual parts are not new. It is "Toyota's remarkable ability to collectively and completely master all of them as a way of life" that makes Toyota unique.

Introduction: In Search of Elegance

In his introduction May tells the story of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, the precursor of the Toyota Motor Company. Toyoda's story is "about one man's nearly spiritual quest to solve a very real problem facing the world around him." The underlying principals that Toyoda followed were Ingenuity in Craft, Pursuit of Perfection and Fit with Society. It is these principles that "fuel the engine of innovation at Toyota." May says that simple solutions are better, and elegant solutions are better still. He describes the elegant solution as "finding the aha solution to a problem with the greatest parsimony of effort and expense."

Chapter 1: The Art of Ingenuity

May tells us that even though some in the business press are saying that innovation in America is becoming extinct because of outsourcing, "there's a slowly rising tide of creativity among today's workforce. More and more, people are beginning to return to the almost forgotten Renaissance era of mastery. They're adopting a different view of their work ... people are beginning to see themselves as artists and scientists, or more accurately business artists and business scientists." According to May, the business world today demands this change. That because of recent events people have become disenchanted with business and need a new way to work, a new perspective. The new way is creative license. This new way of working at innovation is an applied creativity. May sees applied creativity as ingenuity and says that it has two sides - Engagement and Exploration.

Chapter 2 - The Pursuit of Perfection

In this chapter, May describes the pursuit of perfection as discipline of increments. He shows how we have come to expect and accept mediocrity instead of perfection. But there are companies that don't accept mediocrity, but pursue perfection. He lists Toyota, Apple, Gore and GE. May maintains that elegant solutions "demand optimizing quality, cost and speed. They're the three primary tangible drivers of customer value in all goods and services." He says that our culture is fishing for the red herring, the big idea. And that this keeps us from focusing on the real work of innovation. He claims that the big earth-shattering ideas rarely work at first that it takes innovators to "shape them into something actually workable." May uses the example of the mouse and icon system interface. Xerox conceived it, but it was Apple that made it work commercially. He maintains that the kind of discipline needed for the pursuit of perfection "requires a fundamental mindshift." How it is not big leaps but it is small steps.

Chapter 3: The Rhythm of Fit.

In this chapter May explains how our innovations must fit with the needs of society. How they must be "the right thing, at the right time in the right form, for the right people." In order to accomplish this fit, May writes that we need to employ systems thinking. We must provide solutions within the current context or we must provide a new context. He uses the example of Thomas Edison designing the entire electrical system in order to provide the context for his light bulb. Without systems thinking, May points out that we can have major failure such as the United Airline automated baggage system at Denver International Airport which delayed the opening of the airport for a year and caused the airline ten painful years of operation as it regularly damaged or lost luggage, and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. May says that every solution has three dimensions - solid structure, strong systems and social significance. That great innovation must focus on each dimension. That we cannot think outside of the box. If our thinking will not fit in the box, we must build a new box.

Chapter 4: Let Learning Lead

In this chapter, May tells us that while learning and innovation "go hand in hand" the learning must come before there can be innovation. It is through learning that ideas are converted into action. He says that it is accomplished through a cycle of steps. And that cycle of steps is The Scientific Method: Questioning, Solving, Experimenting, And Reflecting. There are several other versions of the cycle. Walter Shewhart called it Plan, Do, Study, Act or PDSA. Dr. W. Edward Deming taught it to the Japanese after World War II and changed it to Plan, Do, Check, Act or PDCA. Capt. John Boyd, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot called it Observe, Orient, Decide, Act or OODA. The Department of Defense uses it in its Spiral Development process. Police forces call it Scan, Analyze, Respond, Assess or SARA. But they are all just variations on the same cycle of learning. May gives us his version of the cycle as a tool. He calls his version I.D.E.A. Loops - a learning cycle for innovation. His cycle is Investigate, Design, Execute, and Adjust. As he brings the chapter to a close, May describes the Japanese practice of Hansei, which means reflection. It is a process conducted in a meeting after a project is completed to perform a rigorous review of the project to see what can be learned. He notes that the U.S. Army practices hansei in its After Action Reviews.

Chapter 5: Learn to See

In this chapter, May describes the process of genchi genbutsu or go and see. It is part of the Investigate phase of the cycle. He tells us that in order to understand the problem we have to go and see it from the customer's perspective. Only then can we define the problem and design a solution. During genchi genbutsu Toyota uses three ways to understand the problem: "Observe or watch the customer, Infiltrate or become the customer, and Collaborate or involve the customer." May says that if we don't perform this part of the process we risk the "ivory tower peril of basing strategic innovation on prevailing market assumptions and consumer research reports." This led to such great projects as the Ford Edsel.

Chapter 6: Design for Today

May warns that our designs must "focus on clear and present needs." We can "mistake invention for innovation, with the missing link being the principle of fit with society." He describes how to design for today while acting for tomorrow. It is discovering a need that has not been met. He tells us that innovation comes by design and when companies outsource design they outsource innovation. He then shows us how Toyota keeps all of its design in-house. For Toyota, it is a matter of principle, ingenuity of craft. May describes how Toyota used this method to gain market dominance in hybrid technology. Toyota also used this method to exploit a demographic shift to create the Scion brand. The Scion brand is designed to reach out to "the 60 million Generation Y crowd." Toyota innovated today in order to survive tomorrow. To design for today you must have "a firm grasp of the market, society and the customer."

Chapter 7: Think in Pictures

In this chapter, May describes how to add a visual element to our designs. He says, "the value of mental imagery and visualization in driving performance is undisputed." He gives us examples of from great visionaries like Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr. Pictures and images can be used to "connect people to the intention in a very forceful way, touching hearts and minds." Toyota makes use of these tools in everything it does.

Chapter 8: Capture the Intangible

May writes that the "most compelling solutions are often perceptual and emotional." It is the "intangibles that differentiate and transform." May describes capturing those intangibles as business art. It is these intangible drives that motivate people to buy a product or service. He says, "it's not business, it's personal." May describes several stories about products or companies that people love. He includes the Prius, Apple Computer, JetBlue, Lexus, Studio D, Pottery Barn and Anthropologie.

Chapter 9: Leverage the Limits

In this chapter, May tells us how to use resource constraints to spur ingenuity. His opening paragraph frames the issue. "The entrepreneurial spirit is M.I.A. We're stuck. Stuck in the old school, stuck in the status quo, stuck in stall. We want things done differently, but we can't seem to get there from here. We've lost our edge. The days of rapid innovation are disappearing. There's widespread lethargy." He says that we need to recapture the "start-up spirit." We need to thrive on the challenge of limits. To achieve innovation we need to exploit limits.

Chapter 10: Master the Tension

In this chapter, May calls for us to work through the tension between an obvious solution and the elegant solution that is a true innovation. This requires finding a solution that solves conflicting goals. It requires us not to stop when the solution is good enough, but to keep working to get the best solution. He writes, "great innovation is often born of an ability to harmonize opposing tensions."

Chapter 11: Run the Numbers

In Chapter 11, May encourages us to back up our ideas with facts, to "do the math." He explains the dangers involved in using instinct instead of facts to make decisions. The ability of our intuition to associate information based on existing patters is a downside for innovative problem solving. May provides several examples of using facts and information to counteract conventional wisdom including Google, the Oakland A's and PayPal. May shows how all of the examples make use of a tool he calls the "slack point." "The slack point is an undetected and counterintuitive inefficiency found through analysis of data."

Chapter 12: Make Kaizen Mandatory

Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. He says that continuous improvement "is all about idea submission, not acceptance." It is "the de facto incubator for consistent business innovation." May describes three steps to kaizen, creating a standard, following the standard then finding a better way and finally repeating the steps endlessly. May describes how the idea of kaizen actually is American made and it came from Deming's work during World War II in the Training Within Industries Service. The American government sent Deming to Japan after the war to help General MacArthur rebuild the Japanese economy. At the same time, the strategy of continuous improvement disappeared from American industry after the war.

Chapter 13: Keep It Lean

May says that complexity can kill innovation. That we should make it simple. He tells us to "start thinking lean." That we should build our solution "from the customer back and drive out anything connected with complexity." May goes on to explain that lean means "doing more of what matters by eliminating what doesn't." He describes the roots of lean thinking and goes into the details of how to be lean. May uses several stories to describe the lean way of thinking including Quadrant Homes, MinuteClinic, Leapfrog and Dell.

Chapter 14: The Clamshell Strategy

May describes the clamshell strategy as the leader providing the "necessary air cover and support from the top" while "the team does the heavy lifting from the bottom. And a pearl of innovation results." May then describes the do's and don't of implementing this strategy. He says that micromanaging innovation is self-defeating and pointless. That innovation has to have a "chief design engineer" role that models innovation, is a mentor to those who are doing the innovation and who monitors the progress of innovation.

Chapter 15: The Elegant Solution

Chapter 15 is the story of how a team from the Los Angeles Police Department used May's methods to create an innovative solution to a problem at the city's jails. He documents how a cross-functional team met for one day and came up with a solution to a very real and costly problem. May then concludes the book with some final words of encouragement for those who want to put his ideas into action.

This book is a great book if you are a leader of an organization seeking to create innovative solutions. However, it includes many practices that even a team leader within a larger organization can use to help his team be innovative. I strongly recommend May's book.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Toyota certainly deserves its high reputation for manufacturing excellence. When I was studying for my MBA we looked at some Toyota cases and processes and they compared favorably to those of the once highly regarded American manufacturers. What happened? How did a company rise from the ashes of World War II to become what will be the largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world? Not only will Toyota lead in volume, but in consistently high quality as well.

The Toyota Production System has been studied in detail. Some have tried to copy it in whole or in part with varying degrees of success. Others have rejected it as hype. In this book, Matthew May shares with readers the core of this powerful system and what makes it work for Toyota. Mr. May has worked within Toyota and has been a senior advisor at Toyota University. He has found a way to explain the essence of the system in a way that can be beneficial to everyone who is interested in understanding the principles that make TPS work. However, while this book teaches many principles it is not a book about making cars. It is about making things better by becoming simpler and, well, more elegant.

While I certainly cannot recount everything in this book here, the opening quote the author supplies from Thomas Edison encapsulates things quite well, "There's a way to do it better - find it". The whole notion of elegance is to find a better way to do things than you are today. Standards aren't for saying what is good enough and for creating a kind of going through the motions. No. They are for summarizing the best known way for doing things today so one can begin thinking about how to improve things.

The author notes that Toyota receives over a million new ideas each year and their system considers them all. Nothing is settled because everything is in play for improvement. Everything is focused on finding a better way. It is quite impressive that an organization as large as Toyota can still embody such an ethos.

The book is organized in three parts. The first lays out the three core principles of ingenuity, perfection, and fit (with society). The second section discusses the ten practices that implement those principles (one chapter for each). I really like the way the author lays out these chapters with problem - cause - solution and then illustrative anecdotes, quotations, and some useful diagrams. The third part consists of two summarizing chapters on what management must do.

There are also an introduction and an afterword that lay out and tie things up nicely. And there is a useful index as well notes, credits, and acknowledgements.

This is a book that you will have to engage in an active way in order to get the most from it. A casual dash through it isn't going to give you what the author has to offer. The material summarized in this book was gained with much work and effort by some very brilliant and dedicated people from all over the globe. Your effort to dig into what they are saying to you will pay real dividends. You will find yourself doing more of what matters and less of what doesn't. That is a great step on the journey for continuous improvement.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Since first learning of W. Edwards Deming in a Japanese Society class I took in college, I've been an eager student of Japanese culture and management practices. In my job interview with Canon executives in Tokyo back in 1992, I expressed my view that America had much to learn from Japan in this regard. The experience proved to be extraordinarily enlightening for me. Unfortunately, after all these years it seems that I am still among only a hand-full eager young American "Samurai," as the majority of companies in my homeland seem to stubbornly continue down their determined "Lemming's March" to extinction. On occasion, my hope is rekindled when a book like this comes out. Toyota has proven itself to be a world leader in both quality and innovation. As an instructor at Toyota University, Matthew May was provided a rare insider's perspective into the management principles and practices that have consistently enabled Toyota to remain at the cutting-edge of the world's automotive industry. Thankfully, Mr. May is sharing this "profound knowledge" in his new book "The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation." In the book, Mr. May outlines a number of management principles and practices employed at Toyota to leverage the creative knowledge assets of its workforce, leading to "delighted" customers and ever-higher benchmarks for the industry. A bonus is provided by way of Mr. May's own "IDEA" methodology for promoting innovation within any organization. I believe it was the late Peter F. Drucker who said that the mantra of the new age in business is "Innovate or Die." If you want for your company to survive in the Darwinian business world of today, you would do well to take up the student's seat, get this book, and set a course of innovation for the future.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book ("Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation") is not inaccurate but somewhat misleading. Although, yes, Matthew E. May has much of interest and value to say about the Toyota Production System, his attention is by no means limited to it and to the remarkable organization within which it was developed and within which it continues to flourish. Today, Toyota is one of the ten most profitable companies in the world and worth more than General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and Honda...combined. Obviously there are reasons for such extraordinary success but it would be incorrect to assume that other organizations can achieve the same success once they know what Toyota's "formula for mastering innovation" is.

What about this book's title? According to May, "Elegance isn't about being hoity-toity. It's not about lofty concepts and grand designs. It's not about beauty or grace, or anything to do with aesthetics - ugly is okay. Elegance is about something much more profound. It's about finding the `aha' solution to a problem with the greatest parsimony of effort and expense. Creativity plays a part. Simplicity plays a part. Intelligence plays a part. Add in subtlety, economy, and quality, and you get elegance...Elegant solutions relieve creative tension by solving the problem in finito as it's been defined, in a way that avoids creating other problems that then need to be solved. Elegant solutions render only new possibilities to chase and exploit. Finally, elegant solutions aren't obvious, except, of course, in retrospect."

Elegant solutions include library, paper money, pencil, wallet, wristwatch, icebox, mortgage, Social Security, credit card, cell phone, and auto leasing. These and other elegant solutions, as May correctly points out, "universally change the world's attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and habits." Efforts to formulate elegant solutions are guided and informed by three principles: ingenuity in craft, pursuit of perfection, and fit with society. "They're the raison d'etre at Toyota, and nonnegotiable."

Earlier, I suggested that this book takes a close look at the mindset and the process by which Toyota continues to formulate elegant solutions. In fact, the Toyota organization implements a million ideas a year. May also includes within his narrative dozens of non-Toyota cases that indicate that none of the individual concepts are new, or even unique to Toyota. All organizations that formulate elegant solutions have people at all levels and in all areas of operation who possess both an ability and a determination to collectively and completely master all of the concepts as "a way of life, not a program centered on select teams led by specialists with artificial agendas."

But what about much smaller organizations, especially those with severely limited resources? Decision-makers in those organizations will be delighted (and perhaps surprised) to find that May provides a wealth of material that they can immediately put to use, once they understand the "deeper principles" that he discusses in Part I and the "ten key practices supported by tools and techniques" that he discusses in Part II. Then in Part III, May explains "how to put the practices and tools together well to achieve a [desired] result." He helps his reader to track the course of an exemplary team through a day of searching for the elegant solution.

For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material is provided in Chapter 12, "Make Kaizen Mandatory," as May poses again (as he does in other chapters) a combination of Problem, Cause, and Solution:

Problem: Innovation is hit or miss.
Cause: Creativity is misdirected and mismanaged.
Solution: Embed the kaizen ethic.

After a brief review of the factors that came together to help embed the kaizen ethic in Japanese business ethic during the decade or so following World War Two, he goes on to explain that at companies such as Toyota, the key issue is that they view kaizen in terms of standards that are created by the individuals performing the work, and, that standards are dynamic, and not everything gets standardized. These companies establish a best practice, document the standard, and train accordingly. Then in the next chapter, May shares his thoughts about "the power of lean" thinking and execution that reduce (if not eliminate) inconsistency, overload, and (most important) waste. Here is another combination:

Problem: Too many, too much - of everything.
Cause: Assumption that more is better.
Solution: Start thinking lean.

Once again, when it comes to innovation and designing solutions, the emphasis remains the same: "whatever you do, keep it lean. Scale it back, make it simple, and let it flow."

And that is what elegance really is all about.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Matthew May has delivered a message that is clear, easy to understand and teaches you how to look at management through a different lens. American managers and workers face unique challenges that require new visions. This book takes the mystery out of what we need to do see things differently. If I ran a company I would make it my employee handbook and mandatory reading for every manager. Then I would do everything I could to make it happen. Enjoyable and enlightening on all levels.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I excepted a lot from the elegant solution. It has been recommended by a lot of persons as a must read. Honestly, I was dissapointed. It's still an good book, but didn't find it as "classic" as people had suggested to me.

"The elegant solution" is about tools for creating innovation on your job. These tools are based on Toyota's tools and practices. The book is devided in three parts. The first part sets three general principles. The second part, by far the largest, provides the tools for innovation, the practices. The last part talks about implementing these practices.

The three principles are "the art of ingenuity", "pursuit of perfection" and "rhythm of fit". They were interesting principles, but not really new or shocking. Sometimes I found them even a little too vague.

The practices range from "thinking in pictures" to "master the tension". Each chapter shortly states the practice and explains the key ideas. After that it uses stories to clarify the practice. Lot's of stories are from inside Toyota. Some stories related to Lance Armstrong, a little too many in my opinion and they were somewhat boring. Anyways, in general, the stories were what made the book interesting.

The third part didn't provide very much content.

In summary, I enjoyed the book, for the stories. I didn't find the practices new and the book didn't provided me with any new insight that other lean books did not provide. The book was written a little bit too much in a "popular style" which annoyed me.

Worth reading for the stories. When wanting to know more on lean or toyota I'd recommend other books like "Toyota way" or "Lean product and process development".
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I came to this book via the Shampoo Problem that's been floating around the internet these past couple of weeks (which he published in his Change This manifesto). The puzzle is this - a high-end health club puts nice shampoo in their showers, but customers keep stealing it. How do you implement a solution that takes no time to implement, doesn't inconvenience customers at all, and doesn't require any money? That's a lot of constrictions, but the author claims it can be done! (you can search for the answer yourself, I don't want to spoil your fun.)

The question itself reminded me of so many bad professors who would ask totally subjective questions and disregard legitimate answers until they found someone who agreed with them. "Who can give me an example of an apple that's tasty? Macintosh? No too sweet. Granny smith? No too bitter. Golden delicious? Why yes Bobby, you get a star."

This is the tone in my head while I read the book - condescending. Maybe he didn't write it that way, but that's how I'm reading it, and honestly, it fits. On page 21 he chides psychologists for loving "to explain our uniquely hardwired capabilities in hugely complex terms. Sixteen types, thirty-four strengths, etc." and then goes on to give his "easier, more elegant" (but no less arbitrary "four basic buckets of natural ability." (Four because the ancient Greeks loved the number four.) Of course, what he fails to mention is that the psychologists he's referring to all write for pop magazines like Cosmopolitan and their articles appear alongside such classics as "10 ways to improve your sex life" and "5 ways to tell if your man is cheating on you." He also never mentions the "four basic buckets of natural ability" again and they have absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book. (The book is filled with useless random made up facts like those.)

He also throws out sentences that have huge presumptions built in to them, but have absolutely no evidence to back them up. Stuff that, in a seminar you wouldn't want to question him on because "there is no right answer" or the facts are obscure enough that he could bluster his way though most arguments that weren't from an expert on the subject. In book form, though, and knowing better myself, I read this stuff and think "well there's a very poor and inaccurate description." Luckily there's an only 50% chance that even the next sentence will depend on you agreeing with that statement, much less the next page.

In a later section he rehashes "the scientific method" (I put it in quotes because he botched his basic characterization of it) and compares it to other four step iterative processes, mostly those developed by the military - Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA), Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA), Scan-Analyze-Respond-Assess (SARA), etc. and comes up with his own version, cleverly called IDEA - Investigate, Design, Execute, Adjust. It's not much different than the others, but it's his and he can teach it in seminars as his own. FWIW, "While Toyota officially recognizes only PDCA (not IDEA), they actually use all of these (methodologies) to some degree." (page 73-4)

Well of course they use all of the methodologies to some degree - they all describe the same basic thing, and very few organizations are so button-down that they actually only use a single methodology and follow it to the letter each time.

The very next sentence is "Let's look closer at the process." But that's pretty much the last time PDCA is mentioned in the book, the next section is about process in general and why it's good to "Insist on a common approach."

Another example of sloppy leaps in logic and condescending attitude is the Edsel. (page 93) Ford did their research and designed a car that people would want - except nobody wanted it. Why? "The problem was, all the research was based on a forty-year-old market belief... that buyers fell into one of four income segments: low, low-middle, upper-middle, and upper... Except markets don't think that way. When it comes to cars, consumers were thinking `lifestyle,' not income."

I like how he swaps an old marketing tool for a modern one as if that's the answer to all the world's problems. Lifestyle marketing was originated in the 70's and 80's as a result of - surprise surprise - new market research techniques developed by psychologists who were using statistical analysis more and more in their psychological research. (I wonder if he thinks those psychologists are too complex now.)

He also utterly fails to get into the concept of lifestyle marketing - he tells you why the Edsel failed, and what they should have done, (or his completely arbitrary and baseless versions of them) but what they should have done is literally one word. "lifestyle." Shame on Ford in the 1950's for not using an 80's marketing concept to understand how the market thinks. Why didn't they use the word "lifestyle" instead - then the Edsel would have been a huge success.

Hansei is another example of this sloppy, condescending thinking. "Hansei is the rigorous review conducted after action has been taken. It's a huge and absolutely vital part of learning. And with few exceptions, our Western culture is just plain miserable at it." Of course there's not one mention of the term "post-mortem" which is a western term and performs the exact same function. Sure most businesses don't do it (most businesses don't follow a lot of best practices), but don't pretend that Toyota or "Eastern culture" somehow invented the concept and that nobody in the west does it. If there's an existing best practice that we understand, then why not just tell us about it rather than pretending that it came from the fount of the Toyota godhead?

"Ford hadn't gone to the field to see what was actually happening. They remained in the office and believed the data. Big mistake. The Edsel was dead on arrival, a complete and utter failure."

Of course the next chapter is about how Toyota did the same basic thing, but managed to succeed. Their data told them that the youth of today would be the car buyers of tomorrow (startling, I know). The case study for the Scion reveals absolutely nothing about the techniques they used to study the market - it's the after report.

"Where are these kids going to buy the car? There's no time or money for new stores. That's a problem. That means they go to a Toyota store. Okay, so they'll know it's a Toyota. How do we get around that? Think? We don't. It's not the ugly stepchild. It's legit, but different. It's Scion, offspring of Toyota. Don't ignore the Toyota link, it's got cred...."

Note the use of the magical word "Think" in that paragraph. He totally neglects to address what "Think" means. Think is the Elegant part of the solution (he also likes the word "Intuitive" and uses it liberally), yet he doesn't describe it at all.

"Think" is where all the magic happens. Katie Lucas calls this the "Run really, really fast" step for "how to win a marathon" methodologies. It's the step where all the real difficult, nitty-gritty stuff magically happens. South Park summarizes it "Step 1: Steal underpants. Step 2...... Step 3: Profit."

Ostensibly the whole book is about that one word "Think" but the tools he provides - the IDEA loop, mind mapping, story boarding are nothing new, and the book is utterly lacking a cohesive whole. They're just scattered ideas, praised one second, and then dropped in the next chapter. He even mentions the Toyota "dashboard" which is a tool for getting a quick overview of a problem - except he (again) utterly fails in to a dashboard. "Dashboard" doesn't even appear in the index of the book, and if it did, the only occurrence would be on page 113.

Here's all the text on page 113. "Creative Visual Control - Visual control is an integral part of Toyota's methodology. The Project Management Office of Toyota's North American Parts Operation (NAPO) used creative visual `dashboards' to track performance in their Stretch Goals Initiative (see Chapter 9)."

Chapter 9 is on how to stretch goals, not about dashboards. He clearly states "Visual control is an integral part of Toyota's methodology" yet it's explained nowhere in the book in any depth.

In fairness, Toyota did do something Ford didn't do (or at least something he claims Ford didn't do) - they got to know their market. Really engage them and have a conversation with them. Learn about them, and let those learnings drive their product, and he does get into that in the book.

The main thrust of the book - if I can understand it all because it's couched in so many superlatives and it jumps from topic to topic so fast that it's really difficult to tease core themes out - seems to be something like: Move forward by getting hands-on experience with your product and your customers. Don't dictate strategy based on numbers alone, or build bureaucracies - get down and dirty and get to know the product you're selling and get to know the marketplace. Come up with grand "elegant" visions for the future, but innovate little by little - tiniest bit by tiniest bit. Listen to everyone and implement every good idea, then standardize it so that the whole company benefits. Don't let the numbers do all the talking; learn the context, the story behind the numbers. Which is a pretty good message, and he does give you some tools to do that, but the tools are often vague, and you feel that the real tools are mentioned only in passing.

The subtitle of the book is "Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation." If this book was about the "formula" for Coca-Cola, it would say something like "cola syrup and seltzer" and go on about the intuitive and elegant way they matched cola syrup to the bubbling process and created a dynamic new soft drink and how the other soft drink companies of the day - lemonade, sugar-water and apple-juice - failed to really understand the problem, which is why they didn't come up with the cola + seltzer combination first and why they lost so much market share. (If only apple juice had thought "lifestyle" instead of "income segment!")

Overall, it's an okay read and a decent introduction to the subject of business innovation, though for a book that's supposedly written by a guy who's on the ground floor with this stuff, I would expect a *lot* more meat and a lot less fluff. Get it if you think you'll like it, but don't expect as much as the other reviewers seem to be hinting at.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
"The Elegant Solution" presents convincing evidence that Toyota has a very effective continuous improvement process (eg. its corporate value exceeds G.M., Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, and Honda combined; Toyota makes at least twice as much money as any other; Toyota implements one million new ideas/year).

"NUMMI" (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) provides additional evidence - Toyota took over a problem G.M. facility, rehired most of the original workers, flattened the hierarchy from 14 layers to three (reducing interference from above), reduced job classifications from over 100 to just one (team worker -> greater flexibility), and cut defects from 12% to 1%, cut assembly time in half and improved productivity, and cut absenteeism from 20% to 3%. (One worker described the change as going from G.M.'s "just do your job" to "no one knows the job better than you" with Toyota - in addition, Toyota teaches you how to solve problems."

Additional important insights come with "Pursuit of perfection is 'the work,'" supported by teaching front-line workers where and how to dig for improvement, asking "What's blocking perfection," vs. "What can be improved," "Don't reinvent the wheel" (use standard parts, program routines, etc. - faster, and less error-prone), use "visual control (inventory locations and size parameters marked on the floor), find problems from one's customers, conduct reviews after major projects (eg. Army's "After Action Reviews," and "Morbidity and Mortality" hospital meetings, working to SIMULTANEOUSLY improve quality, productivity, and cycle time (any fool can improve just one - real improvement involves all three), push the limits of a system (eg. reduce inventory, cycle times), "Never try to design something without first gaining at least three years hands-on experience" - Sakichi Toyoda, Founder, "pursue perfection by starting with the ideal and then working backwards to remove anything that stands in the way," and pursuing problem "root causes" by asking "Why?" five times.

However, May does not put it all together - eg. define perfection, nor does he ever delineate the Toyota Production System for manufacturing or how to modify it for non-manufacturing. Readers must do this themselves, primarily via reading and reflecting on Tachii Ohno's "The Toyota Production System." There readers are introduced to the concept of "value-added work" (defined per the customer), learn that inventory, transportation, rejects, over-production, inspection, delay, and scrap or over-production constitute "The Seven Deadly Sins" (my terminology), and how to systematically find problems to improve processes. (Ohno uses the concept of underwater rocks hidden from a ship by high water levels - inventory; lower the water (inventory) and expose the problems. For service processes the same effect is accomplished by focusing on reducing long cycle-times that also serve to hide problems.) Another key aspect (May does references this) is sometimes setting demanding goals (forces innovative thinking, instead of just tinkering with the existing system.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Matthew E. May is so enthusiastic that he makes the case for innovation sound a bit too simple, easy and risk-free. He sounds, in other words, like what he is: essentially a committed convert to a specific perspective, an approach that has brought a great deal of genuine value to his life. As a result, we recommend his book to readers who can take it with a grain of salt. With that bit of leveling understood, let's hope he attracts many such readers, because his points about innovation and value creation are salient and important. He cuts through a lot of the overtheorized verbiage that the subject of innovation has generated, and he provides a clear, broadly applicable action plan. Whether your business is building cars, like Toyota - which provides many, but not all of the examples here - selling hats or even writing fiction, you'll find ample good suggestions about how to apply continual improvement to create innovative, elegant solutions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've spent a year studying Toyota Production System. There are a lot of myths about productivity. Simply stated: trust the individual to generate ideas; keep the solution within the correct context; focus on incremental and small improvements that have big impacts; and reduce the complexity organization to facility better cooperation and communication. Fight bureaucracy structures that stifle creativity and innovation. Competing for the future means creating the right solutions that bring satisfaction and improvement to the lives of those that use it.

Powerful innovation goes where the action resides; workers take the responsibility too solves everyday problems and generate ideas to improve the company; context is a essential part of the process and solving the right problem brings value and customer satisfaction (focus-solve the task at hand); creating a 1,000 bright ideas is less affective than solve one problem that is impacting the process efficiency (solutions surface when processes are understood at the place of work - go where the action is occurring); elegant solutions are the product of continuous, incremental and evolutionary improvement (leave open to individual interpretation how to best add value); perfection requires discipline like a scientist and creativity like an artist; perfection focuses on incremental improvements that have huge impacts. "Toyota is not immune to the political ales afflicting big companies. And bureaucracy can indeed kill ideas." "People need some way to thing about their work, a perspective that enables them to manage the mounting tension between their ability to innovate and the ever-increasing demands placed on them. They need a way to get a better sense of control over their work and life." Remove from the organization the fear that: "our culture is too bureaucratic. My ideas don't count. I don't get the resources I need" and watch employees gain control over work and life.

Ask five whys to pursuit and inquiry of knowledge about a process; knowledge of the process or system is essential to understand how to improve the process; and compete for ingenuity.

1. Without perfection the gap between the idea and the application is so wide that people don't get it.

2. Most of the so-called revolutionary breakthroughs are in reality smaller ideas combined, synthesized, and adapted to application.

3. Perfection is work. If you want big leaps, then take small steps.

4. Perfection must be a creative core to the daily work of everyone in the company. It must be universally understood to become a path to the future that everyone has a stake in.

5. Perfection is not about the company, it is about the individual and the value the individual can contribute.

6. Go to the place of work and gain understanding: "assemble the team", "identify the target", "understand the process", and "understand the customer".

7. Harmonize the tensions of the group, push harder, move across invisible lines in the organization, cut across departments and divisions creating better communication, coordination, and cooperation which will lead to success. Gain through compromise and cooperation, complementary designs that will benefit everyone.

8. Great innovation provides meaningful improvement in the lives of others. It serves the needs of society.

9. "What separates inventors from innovators is the ability to think through all the conditions and connections required to allow a solution to fit seamlessly into the everyday beat of those who will use it." Build what people will use.

10. Great innovation is great in large measure because of context. Context helps explain why some ideas take off and others don't. Solving problems within the correct context brings satisfaction. The innovation fits the situation and context is shaped and governed by the prevailing systems and structures surrounding your ideas. "Thinking outside the box" is an impotent platitude. Thinking within context is genius!
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