When Problems are opportunities in disguise

By Somali K Chakrabarti

Problems are only opportunities in work clothes! ~ Henry J. Kaiser.

This comment from Kokila on my post ‘Being Unreasonable may lead to Innovation’ triggered the thought for this writeup.

We often whine about the no of problems that surround us and the difficulties that we face in our day to day lives. But then there are those who persevere under trying circumstance and turn the constraints into opportunities.

Here’s the story of Toyota, a business that emerged successfully out of severe constraints during its formative years, guided by people who sought new perspectives to look at problems and  worked around the constraints.

 

Japan in the Post World War II era

Japan, as we know today is one of the most advanced industrialized countries in the world. But it wasn’t always so.

Sixty years back, it would have been impossible to imagine that Japan would reconstruct itself as one of the most developed and technologically advanced nations in the world.

The end of the World War II in 1945, with the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies, had left Japan in a devastated condition. The country faced an acute shortage of food, most of the large cities were severely damaged, and the industries and the transportation networks were impaired.

These factors coupled with the restrained amount of land and natural resources, left the citizens with limited opportunities.

But the lack of opportunities did not deter the Japanese. In those hard times, the creative minds came up with innovations to produce state-of-the-art automobiles that would appeal to the customers worldwide. Here I take up the story of Toyota.

Toyota 

Formed by Kiichiro Toyoda, as an offshoot of his father’s spinning and Weaving Company. Toyota Motor Company, started operations in 1935, with the launch of  A1, prototype passenger car.

Toyota A1

A1 Prototype Passenger Car| Image credit: Toyota Global Site

When World War II ended, the economy was in shambles. Toyota that had primarily produced trucks for the military during the war period, now had to shift focus towards post war vehicles. Toyota’s biggest crises came about five years later in the form of financial and labor crisis in 1949-1950.

By 1949, raw materials and goods of all kinds were still in short supply. Prices were going up. Inflation had reduced consumer demand and dried up the supply of credit. Toyota’s financial situation deteriorated rapidly, and the management decided to reduce staff.

Toyota’s labor union went on strike in April of 1949 over impending layoffs. After long and bitter negotiations, management and labor agreed to reduce the workforce from 8,000 to 6,000 employees.

 

Seeking New Perspectives

After the strike, two of the company’s new executives, Eiji Toyoda and Shoichi Saito, visited the United States to seek new ideas.

Looking at the Just In Time approach used in US supermarkets to stock the items needed by their customers for just the right amount of time and in the quantity needed, Eiji Toyoda conceived the conceived the concept of Kanban.

Taiichi Ohno (a former Toyota vice president), applied the Kanban concept to Toyota production system. By reducing excess inventory and supplying “what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed” according to production plan helped to eliminate waste, inconsistencies, and unreasonable requirements, resulting in improved productivity. Further process and technical innovations followed and Toyota emerged as a global carmaker.

But more than anything else, the crisis led to a paradigm shift about the role of people in Toyota’s operations and it changed Toyota’s approach to employees, with the company giving  priority to ensuring stable employment for its employees and improving labor conditions.

The Toyota story reminds us of the importance of a positive outlook and a ‘Never Give Up’ approach in life.

When life puts you in tough situations don’t say “WHY ME?”, just say “TRY ME

 

Read more about how Toyota build its brand and expanded overseas in the post Toyota – Going Places in my blog Life11.

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Readers Comments (27)

  1. You are skillfully weaving some great thoughts with your brand stories. Thus, these are no more dull information about companies, but a concise history of their struggle and success. The way they overcame all the challenges through years to establish their supremacy in the world, definitely is inspiring. Thanks for sharing these stories with us…. 🙂

    Reply
    • Maniparna, you’ve just nailed my thought process behind these posts. I myself felt it that corporate stories are mostly written in a way that would interest only a certain section of people who like to read business news. But if we look at it closely, all these businesses started with the conviction of some individuals, their determination, struggles and success. So these make inspiring stories provided they are told in a way that makes it relevant to all of us. That’s exactly what I am trying out here. Thank you for pointing it out so clearly. 🙂

      Reply
  2. I just love your skill of point wise explanation & formatting,Btw article is gr8!!

    Reply
  3. Lovely post Somali! It takes a lot of skill to come up with such inspiring stories.

    Reply
  4. That’s a great story. Never knew that a major auto giant faced such condition in primitive years. We own a Toyota Car and we love it.

    Reply
  5. Brilliant one Somali. The story of Japan and their resurgence after the second world war has been an ever inspirational story. And now Toyota beats every other car company in the world. At one point of time, I hear that the American companies which ruled the industrialized sector found it difficult to sell their own cars in America cos people believed more in the Japanese cars.. Amazing indeed 🙂

    Reply
  6. Archana Kapoor May 20, 2015 @ 10:16 am

    Fabulous read Somali! Am amazed and loving this entire series that you are weaving! Thanks for sharing such wonderful work! 🙂

    Reply
  7. I have read Toyota’s story earlier but the perspective you brought to it was quite amazing. I also enjoyed the life lesson parallels that you drew especially the one about adversity.

    Reply
  8. Thanks for sharing..Enjoyed reading it.. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Human angle to a dry corporate story just got redefined. Loved the way you brought it out 🙂 cheers!

    Reply
  10. Very inspiring post. Lot to learn from it. I loved this Napoleon Hill quote: “Opportunity has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat.”

    Reply
    • What an beautiful quote Ravish! Opportunities can emerge out of difficulties. We can always draw strength and inspiration from such quotes. Thanks for adding this on. Have a nice day.

      Reply
  11. Loved reading the article Somali, and i realised I missed some while i was travelling….catching up soon now 🙂 I learnt about kanban in Bschool and this was a super refresher and I love your post as it has your perspective to it which makes all the difference 🙂

    Reply
  12. Difficulties make one stronger. This simple truth is reinforced through your brand story. And I second Maniparna …your brand stories are enjoyable read.

    Reply
  13. Informative and inspiring… 🙂

    Reply

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