The Essence of Japanese Philosophy and Innovation at Toyota

“Blossom where you are right now.”  (今あるその場で花を咲かせなさい)
                                                                  - Japanese proverb

Intrigued about how groundbreaking changes happen, and how organizations can make these changes happen? Zsuzsanna interviewed Professor Tetsuya Kaida, a key architects behind several revolutionary concepts at Toyota Motor Corporation. 

TK: Tetsuya Kaida
ZSJ: Zsuzsanna Jarfas

ZSJ: Professor Kaida, what does innovation mean to you? Is it technology, visionary ideas, a business model? An experience?

TK: To me personally, it is none of them. To begin with, the term “innovation” doesn’t even exist in the Japanese language. Many people think that there is no need for it. Great masterminds like Kisho Kurokawa and Hayao Miyazaki would never have called what they did “innovation” or “creativity.” They went about their daily routine and their passion resonated in the hearts of a few people. Where others saw deviation from the normal, these first followers read instead a story that expanded into the future. Their contagious passion and imagination attracted more followers and the “story” was then marked as “innovation.”

ZSJ: Do the Toyota hybrids share the same pattern? When developing the Prius, for example, did you know you were working on a breakthrough?

TK: Absolutely not. It was all business as usual. Project teams would gather regularly to brainstorm for new ideas, develop concepts. We wanted to have multiple points of view, and therefore decided to draw project members from a wide range of departments, experts in diverse disciplines. While we definitely enjoyed sponsorship at the highest executive level, we still encountered endless resistance from those, who had “never heard of it.” Over time, perseverance did pay off and our internal allies kept growing.

We owe the breakthrough to our fans in California, however. Thanks to them, it was our hybrid that made it to market success—out of so many brilliant idea s out there.

ZSJ: The hybrid story turned out exactly “by the book,” some may say….

TK: Very true, but we didn’t realize it then. We lived in the moment and made one decision at a time. Looking back, all of these moments came together to form a coherent narrative.

ZSJ: What do you believe made the “magic” happen?

TK: An organization’s nature is “to promote order and routine” (T. Levitt). Every once in a while, however, there comes a moment when people in that organization will want to listen to a new voice. When a story told at such a point resonates with the listener, it will be heard and attended to. To go back to our case with the hybrids, the time and place were right. Our perseverance paid off and corporate sponsors caught on the idea. Influential fans read our story and found in it exactly what they were looking for.

ZSJ: What is your message to those who would like to follow in your footsteps?

TK:  Blossom where you are right now. Stop searching for “paradise on earth” and make every single opportunity you have, every single occasion that you are part of a new piece of paradise. This will be your heritage, your future identity, your reputation. In my mind, too many people are obsessed with personal branding and standing out from the crowd. How about doing something meaningful for the crowd once in a while? How about looking around and finding opportunities for doing things better? Helping others do things better? I truly believe that time has come for innovation to be an integral part of our daily lives. …and it starts with the little things, such as making up your bed in the morning, cleaning up your work desk, your bathroom and your shoes. Wanting to be Einstein, but waiting for someone to come and clean things up after you simply doesn’t work. We all need to create a sustainable environment of growth and harmony, regardless of our nationality, place of birth, color of our skin or personal agenda. In order to be recognized, appreciated and included, I strongly recommend everyone to constantly try to improve the world they live in, to fully blossom where they are, before planning to move ahead.... Good luck!

ZSJ: Thank you Professor Kaida, I will cherish every single moment. 

Prof Tetsuya Kaida is one of the key architects behind several revolutionary concepts at Toyota Motor Corporation. He helped develop the “Today for Tomorrow” technology development philosophy, which encourages unrestricted experimentation and free-flowing communication. This leads to the creation of designs that appeal to the emotional side of both internal stakeholders and end-users. Also with the Toyota Prius, he helped bring the hybrid technology to the mass market. He also helped design iconic concept cars such as the Toyota Rin, 1/x and i-REAL, which promote harmony between man-machine and nature. Professor Kaida currently teaches Innovation Management at the Nagaoka University of Technology and consults for clients worldwide.

Zsuzsanna has designed and facilitated projects in the USD50 million to multibillion scale with a keen eye on contextual analysis to identify hidden interdependencies and to develop opportunities. A strong communicator, she has gained buy-in from field to executive and government levels to drive change and to effectively roll-out programs. She is also a seasoned team and meeting facilitator, negotiator, presenter, customer (VIP) and stakeholder relations liaison.
Her counterparts include government agencies, international organizations, mid- to large-scale corporations across various industries and young ventures (power generation, telecommunication, hospitality & conventions, retail, lifestyle and pharmaceutical industries, management consulting). 
Zsuzsanna holds a Summa Cum Laude MBA from the Graduate School of Management, GLOBIS University. She has lived and worked in the United States, Japan, Turkey, Hungary and Jordan.
*Photo by Leo Castillo

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