Lean Blog Interviews — 368: Steven J. Spear Remembers Hajime Oba of Toyota

MIT professor, author, and consultant


Joining me again for Episode #386 is Steve Spear, who reached out to share recollections of one of his most influential teachers and mentors, Hajime Oba, who passed away earlier this month at 75.

I never had the chance to learn directly from Mr. Oba, but he is legendary in Lean circles and I know many people who were deeply influenced by Mr. Oba. I hope to interview more of them in the near future. My deepest condolences go out to Mr. Oba’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Here is a classic 2001 WSJ article that features him:


“How Does Toyota Maintain Quality? Mr. Oba’s Hair Dryer Offers a Clue”


In today’s episode, Steve talks about meeting Mr. Oba and how he learned from him as a PhD student. One story that Steve shares was about sitting at his desk, thinking about a problem, and Mr. Oba told him:


“Don’t think — do!” 

Hajime Oba


You’ll hear more from Steve talking about the need to learn by doing and to test changes in an experimental fashion. It’s not just “do” — it’s Plan Do Check Act (or Plan Do Study Adjust or even Plan Test Study Adjust).