The Secret to Toyota: Guns’n’Stories in VR and the benefit of play

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with people this week wondering about me and they seem surprised that I know so much about Toyota manufacturing systems at a holistic level and that I play so many video games. And as I explained, I see the two as the same, not separate endeavors. To understand why the Toyota company did so well culturally in the realm of business is not in reading and understanding some magic book, or a three day course given in Tokyo where someone stands over you with a cane to beat you with it if you get the incorrect answer to a question, as many believe is necessary. You won’t get it from an MBA program from any college, its one of those things you either get or you don’t. In Toyota outsiders call it the Toyota Kata, which is doing something over and over again until the task is second nature. In their organization managers were successful in establishing a “kata” of success as defined by the target conditions management sets to achieve superiority in the marketplace. Simple. Yet the world struggles with this concept so it is my hope to help it out a bit with this little article.

Playing video games is an excellent way to develop an internal “kata” to use the Japanese word, for training yourself to get used to winning. To identifying what the target conditions for victory are, then learning the rules for getting there. Every video game may be different just as every workplace can have its challenges, but the idea is the same for everything. Once you learn and expect to win, by nature of instinct you’ll get used to identifying what target conditions need to be found to support victory. Once you can do that in a video game, you will train your mind through a kind of kata to finding it everywhere, in relationships, in business, with your children, in society—everywhere. So, it should not be such a surprise that I play many hours of video games per week. The byproduct of that behavior pattern is to constantly push myself to complete those games and to win whatever the parameters of victory are. Knowing what victory looks like is half the battle and so many people just haven’t trained their minds to measure reality in that way, especially adults.

I have a new VR game for my PlayStation called Guns’n’Stories: Bulletproof which was an absolute delight to me. It is an amazing virtual reality shooting gallery type of game where animated villains attack you from all directions while you stand in the middle of various wild west towns gunning them down with a multitude of very fun weapons. I completed the story mode of the game over this past week and found it wonderfully enchanting, a nice vacation from the rigors of daily life. And I was replaying several of the levels last night while I had the television on listening to Fox News and the reports that the Democrats stormed out of the President’s office over the troop pullout in Syria. I took a moment to think about how much information was pouring into my brain, between the VR headset and furious action from the game as hundreds and hundreds of bad guys came at me to shoot down as fast as I could, then the news broadcast going on in the background as my wife was telling me about all the events of her day, it was a lot. But I’ve trained my mind to deal with all that, and that isn’t that much more unique than a typical day at the office.

The difference between Toyota, or most Japanese companies, is that they have not forgotten how to play with ideas as a culture whereas we have in the West, from Europe to North America. We look at work as, well, work, and the Japanese don’t, its just another part of their life. They enjoy the work most of the time and that is one of the key ingredients to Toyota’s success as a company. Playing a lot of video games over the years allowed me to do much the same with my own life, there isn’t always time to play a football game with a bunch of people, or to go shooting somewhere that you can actually shoot targets by the hundreds of thousands, or fly around in some vessel engaging in dogfights. All of that is play, but more seriously all those games have objectives toward winning the game and in playing them the target conditions for victory are always occurring. You as the player must discover them through playing the game. And the benefits continue long after the game is over because the process has wired into your brain the ability to discover target conditions in everything, even when you aren’t playing video games.

I watch so many adults struggle in life over this very basic misconception. They wonder why their wives don’t love them or find them attractive anymore as they complain that their car is in the shop again, their house isn’t big enough, and that they are overlooked in their jobs for the next big promotion. They ponder why their kids seem indifferent to them as they grow up because they have sacrificed so much as the parent to give them a good life and they feel unappreciated, and of course all those behaviors show up in their work. At 5 PM on the nose they are leaving for that long drive home where they are met in the kitchen by an indifferent spouse with their own version of the same problems. Then when talking to me, they say, “video games are for kids. I’m busy making a living and living in reality.” Of course, to that I say, “reality is defined by your interpretation of it.” If you don’t have the tools intellectually to make reality work for you, but rather against you, then its no wonder you are miserable.” In truth, by playing games, video games or some sport for fun, you are actually helping train your mind to identify target conditions for success, which is what Toyota as an organization does for all the employees that work for it. They know how to define success and getting there becomes a kind of game instead of feeling like just more pointless work. Give people that autonomy, you give them more than a good job, but a good life.

It is always a treat to me to play a cool game like Guns’n’Stories: Bulletproof in a virtual reality environment. After all, to me for that time that the headset is on, that is reality. And to take a break in that kind of world is a real treat. Whether its actual reality or virtual reality the objective is the same, to define target conditions and endeavor for a win. By achieving victory, the mind gets used to seeing and striving for the parameters of victory, and if truth be told, that is the key to the Toyota Kata. Knowing how to win and learning to strive for the ways to do so. Empowering people to win and share in the ownership are the keys to any success. So, from that vantagepoint, video games aren’t so silly, but a good tool for training the mind in how to learn to win.

Rich Hoffman
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