Maybe the Toyota secret was out. Maybe other carmakers could adopt Toyota's methods and match the leader in quality and productivity.
Might that happen?
That's what I asked Eiji Toyoda in 1995, a few years after publication of The Machine That Changed the World. The book by the MIT team brilliantly identified and codified the principles of the Toyota Production System. Everybody was reading the book. Was the cat out of the bag? Could everybody catch up?
High above a pretty little park in Tokyo, in one of those typical Japanese meeting rooms with couches and chairs around a low table, Mr. Toyoda, the elderly honorary chairman, smiled.
Well, no, he said. We've moved beyond that.
"That" was what the MIT folks termed "lean manufacturing." (An aside: The authors didn't want to call it the Toyota system; it needed to be broader than that. A young graduate student on the MIT team came up with the word that became the Holy Grail of automakers and suppliers everywhere: lean. That graduate student was John Krafcik. Krafcik later became a top engineer for trucks at Ford, and now heads product development and strategic planning at Hyundai Motor America.)
Here we are a dozen years later. Everybody is lean, or aspires to leanness, and everybody is still trying to catch up to Toyota. Toyota has moved on from yesterday, even if only a little.