The Machine That Changed The World

James P. Womack
April 06, 2019
★★★ (-25.93%) 🛈

A disappointing book. It’s about making cars.

You might think, “Well, yeah, this is about Toyota, right?” And it is, so I should of known it was about making cars, but it’s really about making cars, and how many people actually make cars?

Clearly, most people are going to read this with an eye towards applying lessons to broader business questions, and I just don’t think it’s that kind of book.

In reality, the book isn’t the thing. The book is just the final outcome of a long study done by the authors of the car manufacturing business. It was a $5 million study that compared American, Japanese, and European manufacturers.

The result: the Japanese were better at everything. It’s chapter after chapter about how the American car manufacturing process is very...America. It’s big and top-down and dictatorial, while the Japanese is smaller and closer to the worker and customer and more nimble, etc. The book was originally published in 1990, which was the height of the wave of Japan-a-phobia about how they were going to take all our industry. I’m sure it didn’t help calm people down.

This goes on for hundreds of pages, and I kept looking for something new that I could apply more broadly to other business, but I wasn’t finding anything. Part of that might be due to the fact that this stuff just isn’t revolutionary 30 years down the road. A lot of what’s in the book is just how things are done now. Hell, GM launched an entire new brand (Saturn) around these principles.

Also, the title of this book is absurdly overblown. Changed the world...really? Yeah, I wasn’t getting that.

I read about 200 pages of it, and skimmed the last 100. I just came to realize there wasn’t much of anything that was new or more broadly applicable.

This is item #146 in a sequence of 515 items.

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