Meditating with the Cat and Toyota Production System


There once lived a Zen master who was renowned for his profound wisdom. He had many disciples under him. He was said to be a great teacher of meditation.

One day, one of his disciples brought him a kitten. The master was pleased with such a gentle, curious creature. That day, it was time for the meditation class, and the master started his meditation.

Just then, the kitten jumped on his lap and started purring. This distracted the master. He ordered the cat to be tied to the chair next to him. The kitten being the gentle creature that it was, thought it was a good time to sleep while being tied to the chair. This continued every day and every day, the kitten would disrupt the master during meditation, and would get tied to the chair.

Years went by, and the cat was now regularly tied to the chair during meditation time. People from all over would come to learn from the master, and would notice the cat being tied to the chair during meditation.

The master soon died, and the new master continued this practice. Soon the cat died as well. The monastery then got a new kitten, and it got tied to the chair as well. Scholars started writing about this superior method of meditation and how this was better than “regular meditation”. People everywhere started buying cats to improve their meditation skills…

I read this story a while back, and rewrote it for this post. This post is similar to the “Spirit of Buddha” post I made earlier. It has become common to start off lean journeys by mindlessly copying the tools that are used at Toyota. Toyota has crafted the Toyota Production System over decades of trial and error. Each tool they developed or borrowed was to address a specific problem they faced. One should not copy Toyota. The cat was tied to the chair to address a specific problem faced by the master. The cat story is a good example of how we sometimes blindly follow methodologies without understanding the origins.

Shigeo Shingo, in one of the best books on Toyota Production System – “A Study of the Toyota Production System” states the following;

“It must be understood, though, one of its (Toyota Production Management System) prime features is that it is permeated with its own advanced concepts and special techniques. This does not necessarily mean, however, that one can simply copy the distinctive external techniques of the Toyota Production System in another manufacturing environment.

In the same light, Satoshi Hino in his book, “Inside the mind of Toyota” has written the following;

“Unless we could grasp the structure of their minds, then even though we might be able to copy the Toyota Production System, we wouldn’t be able to work out methods for going beyond it and we would never prevail.”

To paraphrase Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford, “If you copy someone, you can only come second. You cannot come first.”

Always keep on learning…


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