“If it stinks,put a lid on it ! ” and Toyota problems

The Wall Street Journal reports a Japanese proverb “if it stinks,put a lid on it!” (February 5, 2010).

The concept of “face saving” and “shame” is critical to the eastern cultures,and yet unfathomable to the Westerner. Even to those Westerners who are the most open to Eastern cultures.Geert Hofstede compares Japanese and US cultures and yet the concept of shame is beyond the Hofstede dimensions. For example,Japanese attitudes to the disabled has been studied by academics for quite some time. In Japan, the disabled and weak have a hard time being acknowledged by their own families.The families are ashamed of their unfortunate relatives and would rather put a metaphorical “lid” on them.

Since this blog takes a managerial view, we sympathize with Toyota’s predicament and sincerely wish that their US competitors  like GM, Ford and Chrysler sell some more cars for the sake of the economy, even as  Toyota loyalists reel from the shock of all this news.

Here is an apology from the Toyota chief in Japan, difficult for all CEO’s but more so in the Japanese culture. All Asians and cultures that subscribe to “If it stinks,put a lid on it”  should hopefully change their internal organization cultures to address “stink” issues expeditiously and upfront. As an MBA case instructor will tell you management actions are short immediate term, medium term and long term. Inaction or “putting a lid” is equivalent to taking the really long term view and as John Maynard Keynes  is reported to have said “in the really long term, we are all dead!”  Toyota’s immediate short term problem is to assure its very large customer base that brakes and accelerators, do not have a mind of their own.

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