Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is Hubris?

By Pascal Dennis

"The US Department of Transportation has completely cleared Toyota of any safety issues beyond those identified and dealt with before the safety crisis. Yet Toyota has recognized internal difficulties in both growing too fast and not listening to customers enough. What should we learn from the whole episode?"

An iconic company, synonymous with safety and quality, has been brought low by plaintiff lawyers and an opportunistic government.

My sense is Toyota's reputation will recover quicker than expected, whereas the government's has suffered yet another heavy blow. 

Harpers February 2011 issue has an interesting piece entitled "A Super Bowl Spot for Uncle Sam -- Can Madison Avenue Make Us Love Our Government?"   

Short answer: not if they keep doing this sort of thing...

In any event, I believe there are valuable lessons here. 

Hubris -- excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance -- is a dangerous enemy.  

"He who the gods would destroy, they first hold high" Euripides tells us.  Has Toyota displayed signs of hubris the past decade?  Did hubris contribute to the breakdown in communication with regulators and in public relations, that Steven talks about?"

Toyota's business system, as I understand it, is designed to make problems visible -- problems in the Design, Make and Sell "loops" -- so that skilled problem solvers can:

a) get to root cause and fix it, and 
b) share the learning gained thereby.  
If so, somewhere the system indeed broke down.

My chums at the company's North American plants have often worried that "we're becoming just another North American car company."  They lament the increasing use of the "iron fist" of the North American management style.

Where there's smoke, there's fire -- or at least a flickering ember or two.

I don't want to be misunderstood.  I've no doubt Toyota will get to root cause & share the learning gained.  I'm confident Toyota will regain its lustre and become a paragon again.  But Toyota, and all great companies need eternal vigilance against their eternal antagonist.

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