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“Time is life.”


“Time is life.”

-Eiji Toyoda



“Time is money.”

A famous quote by Benjamin Franklyn. It is widely popular and being phrased by many.


Eiji Toyoda, the fifth president of Toyota Motor, known as the one who restored Toyota, rephrased the above quote as follows.


“Time is life.”


My coach heavily referred to this quote in relationship with “Respecting Human.”


“We, humans, have limited life. Out of that limited life, we allocate a significant portion of that time to work. We must respect that time to be used to do something valuable.”


In other words, waste is the most prominent form of disrespect to humans.


If we think about the seven types of waste that Ohno pointed out, everything is about the form of disrespecting the life of humans.


  • You are asking to produce something that there’s no customer. [Over-production]

  • You are asked to wait.

  • You are repairing something.

  • You are transporting something for no reason.

  • You are doing something unnecessary. [Process]

  • You are moving too much.

  • You are keeping a huge stock.


If this happens in our personal life, we feel we are wasting our time.

But somehow, at work, we accept this waste.


The other day, I ordered something online. And, it arrived defective. Quickly, the “efficient” return process started. The problem I faced was that the return label was printed by order, not by quantity of boxes. They were delivered in multiple boxes but only one return label. I had to go through silly talks with the online store. I was frustrated that I was wasting time.

However, walking through the warehouse, I recognized it had full-time staff dedicated to handling these returned products. Is it necessary? Of course, it is. But is this “work” meaningful? “It is not a significant cost.” One manager explained to me. Yes, the manager is smart. Percentage-wise, it is small. It is just that the cost was increasing at an alarming rate. Are we going to wait until it is a crisis? And why do we need to keep someone to deal with angry customers and fix broken products? “The biggest problem here is turnover.” Yes, there’s a reason why they leave. They don’t think their life is respected.


This is where Eiji Toyoda’s wisdom comes in.


“Time is life.”


The symbol he used to represent “life” is “命.”

This symbol has another meaning.

It means command, decree, or order.

Using the same symbol for “life” and “command” might sound strange for non-east Asians, but it is.

“Time is life.” And how that life is used heavily depends on what the manager ordered.



Back to the return process.

It is necessary. It is necessary to be processed efficiently. But the manager must ask another important question: “Why do we have returns?” Without asking this question, the organization is tied to perpetual waste. We don’t need an organization that wastes someone's life.


Also, there is one more thing the manager should care about. If you simply say the process is a waste, the workers will feel depressed. This is not a respectful message. Instead, promise to convert them into a quality builder. Yet, ask these people to memorize the pain of dealing with angry customers. Pass the pain of opening the box with defects. Connect that message with the importance of quality everywhere, from materials to shipping and logistics. There are a lot of messages to be learned from each returned product. Those who experienced the pain could become great teachers to others on why quality is essential everywhere. The pain is not their mission.


And another meaning of “命” is mission or fate.


“Time is life.” Eiji Toyoda. Great wisdom.

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