A spinoff from a textile firm that has evolved into the largest, most successful car company in the world. Toyota is built on the principles of kaizen, which means “continuous improvement”-and which is a synonym for deep practice. Like any talent hotbed, Toyota makes those improvements through its willingness to stop, attend, and fix the tiniest error. In this light, their entire assembly line can be thought of as a single giant skill circuit, continually honed through deep practice.

The Business of Growing Skill

In this report, you’ll hear a familiar business story about a lean, successful Japanese company eating Detroit’s lunch. But when you look beneath the cliches, you’ll see the elements that make Toyota truly unique-and make them like Spartak, KIPP, Meadowmount, and the rest of the talent hotbeds.

For example, at two minutes, when the Toyota executive highlights their “culture of respect.” True enough, but the larger point is that the respect has a deeper goal: to create a free flow of information. To fix errors means you need to listen to everyone-especially line workers, who are the source of many of the company’s improvements. It’s estimated that each year every Toyota factory implements about a thousand new suggestions into its assembly line-deep practice in excelsis.

Check out the mock assembly line at 3:10 – workers are training by putting toy trucks into bins. It seems dangerously close to a scene from “The Office,” but look at the way they focus on it, and moreover the way they talk about it. I know they’re bound to say nice things about their company because the cameras are rolling, but don’t the workers seem unusually engaged? Especially the cheerful guy at 3:35 in the red shirt who talks about kaizen. That happiness on his face isn’t accidental-it’s part of the enthusiasm at the heart of any talent hotbed.


  • Eagerness to stop and fix. Toyota doesn’t just pay attention to errors-they seek them out, and celebrate the process of fixing them. Each factory features an andon-a pull-cord that stops the assembly line. Everyone at Toyota has the authority to pull the andon in order to stop and fix a problem, no matter how small.  
  • Raising the bar. Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe has said that his goal is to build a car that does not hurt anyone and that cleans the air as it runs (talk about continual improvement!). This mindset allows Toyota to think long-term, and thus to adapt well to the current downturn. For instance, the company just worked with steel manufacturers to buy 20 percent fewer steel sheets, and they’ve anticipated the growing hybrid market.

Of course, they’re not the only company to create their version of deep practice. Check this out-any of it sound familiar?