Toyota, the Green Tomato:


Toyota is referred to as the #1 car manufacturer in the world today. Toyota sold 10.15 million vehicles worldwide in 2015 and remained the world’s top selling carmaker for the fourth straight year. I recently came across an interesting metaphor depicting Toyota that I have not heard used before. The book “Extreme Toyota” documented an interview with Jim Press, former President of Toyota Motor North America, in which he said that Toyota wants to be a green tomato. His point was as follows;

“Green tomatoes know their futures are still ahead of them, while red tomatoes quit growing”.

One of the authors of the book, Hirotaka Takeuchi, explained this further by saying that Toyota sees itself as always growing, and always incomplete. This way, Toyota accepts that there is room for improvement, and that “tomorrow will be better than today”.  Hirotaka used the working title of the book as “The Incomplete Company”.

The metaphor of a “green tomato” is beautifully deep and underlines the idea that being complacent is bad. Toyota has become the number one car company in the world. However, seeing itself as the top company is akin to being like the red ripe tomato which would soon fall off and rot. This same idea is repeated by the former President, Katsuaki Watanabe;

“At the very instant we become satisfied, at the very moment we think that the status quo is good enough, that’s when we start to decline.” He continued, “We’re still not there. There are a lot of things we need to do.”

Final Words:

Being complacent is being ignorant and being in denial. Being complacent urges you to remain in your comfort zone. Any new information that indicates that something is wrong does not get registered. As one of my wise friends once told me, once you are complacent, you get busy trying to put up the outward appearance that everything is fine. You create a picture in your mind that everything is great and you hold on to it. The more things that go wrong, the stronger you hold on to your ideal image and continue to be in denial. Be the green tomato, and think of yourself as “still a little more to go”.

I will finish this post with a great Zen Koan by the 1st century Zen master Linji Yixuan. He said;

“When you meet Buddha on the road, kill him”.

There is a little shock factor to this koan. But once you go deeper, there is a beautiful and profound lesson in this. The road is interpreted as your journey in search of enlightenment. The Buddha in the koan is our own idea of perfection and enlightenment. And if you think that you have attained enlightenment, you surely have not attained enlightenment. You have to “kill” that thought, and stay incomplete. Be like a green tomato.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Information at the Gemba.

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