From The Reckoning, by David Halberstam:
Shaiken’s studies showed that the Japanese had made their great surge in the sixties and seventies, by which time the financial men had climbed to eminence within America’s industrial companies and had successfully subordinated the power of the manufacturing men. When the Japanese advantage in quality became obvious in the early eighties, it was fashionable among American managers to attribute it to the Japanese lead in robots, and it was true that Japanese were somewhat more robotized than the Americans. But in Shaiken’s opinion the Japanese success had come not from technology but from manufacturing skills. The Japanese had moved ahead of America when they were at a distinct disadvantage in technology. They had done it by slowly and systematically improving the process of the manufacturing in a thousand tiny increments. They had done it by being there, on the factory floor, as the Americans were not.
In that opinion Shaiken was joined by Don Lennox, the former Ford manufacturing man who had ended up at Harvester. Lennox had gone to Japan in the mid-seventies and been dazzled by what the Japanese had achieved in modernizing their factories. He was amazed not by the brilliance and originality of what they had done but by the practicality of it. Lennox’s visit had been an epiphany: He had suddenly envisioned the past twenty years in Japan, two decades of Japanese manufacturing engineers coming to work every day, busy, serious, being taken seriously by their superiors, being filled with the importance of the mission, improving the manufacturing in countless small ways. It was not that they had made one giant breakthrough, Lennox realized; they had made a thousand and one quite modest ones.