How to Hit a Curveball

Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business
By Scott R. Singer with Mark Levine

A Big Swing and a Miss…

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

There’s no other way to characterize Toyota’s response to the curveball it was thrown regarding its massive automotive recall issues. Toyota failed to step up to the plate by initially ignoring the problem, apparently hoping it would all go away. Then the company failed to step outside the batter’s box and look at the situation from a fresh perspective. Those are just two problems that instantly come to mind. As time goes on, I’m sure we will all be able to come up with more. What’s already clear, however, is that this event in Toyota’s corporate history is truly an epic international whiff.

In business schools, Johnson & Johnson is the golden standard for crisis management and brand protection. In years ahead, Toyota is likely to become the standard for brand damage.

—The Sydney Morning Herald, Oh, What a Failing

But it could be that there’s more to this strike out than just bad management.

[It] is obvious that crisis management does not seem to be Toyota’s strong suit. This is as much a cultural issue as anything, notes Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. His book Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change is due out in September.

“Over the past two decades, I cannot think of one instance where a Japanese company has done a good job managing a crisis. The pattern is all too familiar, typically involving slow initial response, minimizing the problem, foot dragging on the product recall, poor communication with the public about the problem and too little compassion and concern for consumers adversely affected by the product,” he notes.

Japanese companies in Japan don’t pay much of a price for negligence and that’s part of the problem, he adds. In Japan, compensation for product liability claims is mostly derisory or non-existent. In a nutshell, “producer interests trump consumer safety,” in Japan, he says.

—The Globe and Mail, Crisis Management Not Toyota’s Strong Suit

I didn’t address cultural factors in the book, but there seems to be something to this notion that they may impact how companies and people deal with curveballs.

What do you think?

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