Problem solving and command-and-control

In the three and a half weeks that we’ve been in Japan, I am intrigued by the comments many working foreigners have made that, as a whole, Japanese people are not creative problem-solvers (beyond strict data analysis). They also describe a working culture that is very hierarchical, top down and “command and control” – whatever the boss says goes.

One non-native Japanese senior executive explained his perspective that the Japanese can problem-solve within a narrow band of tasks within a specified job, but they don’t go outside those boundaries and don’t contribute to the wider improvement of the company as a whole.

So much of what I have learned about Lean is about a culture of problem solving and creativity in experimentation. If typical Japanese culture is less about innovation and more command and control in terms of management, I’m curious about how Toyota fostered a culture of problem solving and the role of leader as teacher rather than teller.

I want to explore these dynamics further as I talk to more people and go to gemba.

What is your experience?

For those of you with experience working in Japan, what is your perspective or experience on problem solving and creativity in Japanese work culture? How does this impact innovation and continuous improvement?