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In 1896, Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, invented a self-powered loom to spin thread mechanically. The machine incorporated a unique automatic stopping device that turned off the loom whenever it detected a broken thread. Because the loom shut down when a problem arose, it was nearly impossible to produce defective products. More than a century later, Toyota incorporates the automated shutoff process, referred to as Jidoka, into its automotive production systems and, apparently, into its leadership approach.

Embarrassed by a recent increase in vehicle recalls, the company is taking a hard look at its quality control methods. In the meantime, management has said it may delay some scheduled model introductions by as much as three to six months in an effort to prevent potential quality problems.

Few organizations have Toyota's luxury--or, more importantly, its fortitude--to halt a process until a problem is resolved. As a result, defects continue to mount and credibility suffers. Sakichi Toyoda would be proud.
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