Be curious, don’t let inhibitions  take over

November 04, 2020

Stacey Miller, senior manager at TFS Strategic Innovation is tasked with bringing innovative ideas to life through incubation and experimentation. Blake Towery, senior analyst in the Talent Development Group at Toyota got an opportunity to chat with Stacey and learn about her journey at Toyota and saw innovation happening at Toyota through her lens. In her conversation, Stacey also shared key insights on Innovation and Toyota Way.

Blake Towery: Stacey, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Stacey Miller: Thanks for having me. I have been with Toyota for over 26 years, most of my tenure being with Toyota Financial Services. Three years ago, I took an assignment with Toyota Motor North America with a focus on mobility. Now I'm back at TFS focusing on strategic innovation. Our Strategic Innovation team is focused on the incubation of new business opportunities. We seek out innovative ideas and solutions in order to test out these business concepts.

Blake Towery: Stacey, I want to talk to you about innovation because you are in the mobility group. Why is innovation so important for Toyota’s success?

Stacey Miller: Well, Toyota is all about innovation. We’re known for our cars, the technology in our cars, and how we're a leader in quality and safety. I recently went to visit our R&D team in Ann Arbor and York, Michigan, and I came back from that trip invigorated. The people, their mindset, and the innovative technologies and projects that they're working on made me prouder to be a part of this company. People know we make great cars, but there are a lot of people behind the scene with an innovative mindset that make those cars what they are today. That's why Toyota is so successful.

Blake Towery: Do you think people are naturally innovative, or is this something that you can learn over time?

Stacey Miller: That's a good question. I think people are born innovative. At a young age, kids come up with great ideas, off the wall ideas, just from their imagination. Over time as we get older, our inhibitions takeover. Those that can overcome those inhibitions take more risk. Others let false fears take over, they become more risk averse, become more self-conscious, and they tend to shy away from putting themselves and their ideas out there. In summary, I think people are naturally innovative, but over time, we do it to ourselves. The key is to relearn and teach ourselves that it's okay to put new ideas out there. It's okay to take risks. It's okay to fail. That's another thing…people are afraid of failure, but unless you fail a few times, you really don't get to that sweet spot of innovation.

Blake Towery: How do you balance practicality with innovation?

Stacey Miller: That’s a great question too. The way you can balance is to accept the fact that we don't have all the answers. The Toyota Way teaches us to go to the source and talk to the customer—our “Customer First” philosophy. So, if you want to check whether an idea is driven by self-perception or by what the customer wants, go to the source, talk to people and find out what the customer wants. That's your validation check. With that said, there's always a little bit of risk taking with innovation, and it is okay to fail. Practical people try to avoid the failure, but without failure, one would not be able to explore true innovation and transformation.

Stacey emphasized that innovation is a key factor in Toyota’s success. We all can be innovative if we don’t let our inhibitions and false fears take over when a risky but brilliant idea comes up. Stacey says it's okay to fail, and the key is to relearn and continue to put new ideas out there.  A great way to learn is in Toyota’s DNA. The Toyota Way principles like Kaizen (continuous improvement) and Genchi-Genbutsu (go and see for yourself) are catalysts for stepping out of your comfort zone and being innovative. If you're looking for a way to validate your innovative idea, make sure to work closely with your customer and understand their needs. We are all tasked to continuously improve, challenge the status quo, and push for break-through solutions. If you are looking to improve your innovation skills, I'd suggest to start looking at the expected innovation behaviors for your job.  Another good way to become more innovative is to network, find a mentor, and learn from others and their experiences. Lastly, don't be afraid to take risks. Fail fast and you will learn fast. It’s never too late to start!

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