I'm looking for a book I read about 20 years ago, in which one of the main characters explained to somebody else the way Japanese factories operated and the difference with US. He stated something like:

After WWII the USA government wanted to help Japanese economy to recover, so they decided to put some orders in Japanese factories. Once they ordered a huge number of screws [a million?] with the clear indication that there was a tolerance limit of [something like] 0.1% defective units, which was a tight limit in the US at that time. Some time later the package arrived to the US with a note stating that they (the Japanese manufacturers) didn't understand why the US wanted defective screws, but they had produced them anyway and had packed them separately from the non-defective ones so they didn't get mix.

The anecdote was to show that the Japanese manufacturers produced always perfect screws (or whatever they had to), without defective units. And that they did it always looking for cheaper and more efficient ways, in contrast to US manufacturing process.

Additional information:

  • I read the book about the year 2000
  • I am almost certain it was a Spanish translation of an English (probably USA) text
  • It is not Michael Crichton's Rising Sun nor Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, the two only books I can think of that could have such a passage that I have read.
  • I don't remember anything else from the plot: the part I remember is just this anecdote.
  • Was it actually a work of fiction, or something like the book on process management linked in reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/jqq2a/… ? Googling the IBM story from the reddit post leads to other books like The Essence of Total Quality Management (from 1990)
    – muru
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 12:38
  • @muru: It was a work of fiction - for a long time I thought it was Michael Crichton's Rising Sun until I re-read it to find the exact quote ... and it wasn't there.
    – 今夜九
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 14:05


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