A Fascinating Story About Henry Ford And How Asking Why Opened Toyota’s Eyes

Posted by on Sep 22, 2019 in Creativity, Henry Ford | 0 comments

It’s universally recognized that Henry Ford was a pioneer in perfecting the automotive industry.  He knew in detail every material used in his vehicles and his knowledge was not superficial.  Ford thought flexibly about things without getting caught up in existing concepts.

In his book, Toyota Production System, Beyond Large-Scale Production, Taiichi Ohno relates what Henry Ford talked about in his book Today and Tomorrow about the textile industry and how his ideas opened Toyota’s eyes about how it conducted business.

“We use more than 100,000 yards of cotton cloth and more than 25,000 yards of woolen cloth during every day of production.”

“A first, we took for granted that we had to have cotton cloth–we had never used anything but cotton cloth as a foundation material for tops and for artificial leather.  We put in a unit of cotton machinery and began to experiment, but, not being bound by tradition, we had not gone far with these experiments before we began to ask ourselves:  Is cotton the best material we can use here?”

“And we discovered that we had been using cotton cloth, not because it was the best cloth, but because it was the easiest to get.  A linen cloth would undoubtedly be stronger, because the strength of cloth depends upon the length of the fibre, and the flax fibre is one of the longest and strongest known.  Cotton had to be grown thousands of miles from Detroit.  We should have to pay transportation on the raw cotton, if we decided to go into cotton textiles, and we should also have to pay transportation on this cotton converted into motor-car use–very often back again to where it had been grown.  Flax can be grown in Michigan and Wisconsin, and we could have a supply at hand practically ready for use.  But linen making had even more traditions than cotton, and no one had been able to do much in linen making in this country because of the vast amount of hand labour considered essential.”

“We began to experiment at Dearborn, and these experiments have demonstrated that flax can be mechanically handled.  The work has passed the experimental stage.  It has proved its commercial feasibility.”

Ohno goes on to say that Toyota was intrigued by Ford’s question “Is cotton the best material we can use here?”

Ford pointed out that people tend to follow tradition.  Tradition might be acceptable in our private lives, but outdated customs must be eliminated in industry.  Improvement and progress cannot occur when we are satisfied with the way things are.  If we walk around with blinders on, we’ll never be able to ask good questions and make improvements and the progress required to survive in today’s world.

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