LEARNING FROM HONDA*
Birkbeck College, University of London
ABSTRACT The case of the Honda Motor Company has been cited frequently in the strategic management literature. A review reveals that Honda's strategy has been used to iDustrate and support apparently contradictory positions on a series of conceptual dichotomies, namely analytica] p]anning versus leaming, market positioning versus resource-based and, within the last of these, core competencies versus core capabilities. A critical analysis of this literature reveals empirical inaccuracies and a focus on Honda's strategic successes to the neglect of its failures. More significandy, explanations and general strategy implications are couched in terms of reductionist one-sided theories, a tendency which is only deepened when strategy thinkers debate 'the meaning of Honda'. This theoretical approach is particularly ill suited to Honda, an important strategic capability of which apjiears to be precisely the reconciliation of dichotomous management concepts. VVestem strategy thinkers have therefore missed the opportunity to develop a more appropriate and productive paradigm for leaming from Honda.
INTHODUCTION The frequent citation of the Honda Motor Company in the academic and popular management ]iterature over the past two decades has led many academics, students, and practising managers alike to feel a certain familiarity with Honda, just as they might with General Motors, 3M or Genera] EUectric. Some years ago a professor of strategy at a weU-known business schoo] to]d the author that he rea]]y ]iked Honda - 'a ]ovely ]itt]e company', ais he put it - which made an exce]]ent case study for MBA students. Sinii]ar opinions are widely shared by management educators. A closer reading of the strategic management literature revea]s that Honda has been marshalled to support a variety of often opposing positions in some of the discipline's...