JinK: Bishop-san, lately I’ve been noticing a lot of interesting things from working
with people from a lot of different countries.
Bishop: Really? That’s actually been giving me some tough times, working in Japan.
JinK: I mean, of course I have my fair share of struggles every day here in America too.
When working in a foreign culture, it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water.
But it’s interesting from time to time to take a step back and think about why
things are different.
Bishop: That makes sense. And that was the point of this blog in the first place, wasn’t it?
JinK: Yes, that’s right.
Bishop: So what was it that you found interesting?
JinK: I asked an American team and an Asian team to do a similar analysis. I explained
the approach and methodology to analyze their respective markets. But the result
was totally different from both teams.
Bishop: In what way?
JinK: The Asia team faithfully carried out the request, even going above and beyond
what I had asked. It was really useful output. However I could not even use
the American team’s output.
Bishop: Why not?
JinK: I had asked them to perform the analysis based on a specific framework, but
they came back with “after some thought, we think there are some problems with
the framework, so we changed it to this framework which we think would work
a bit better.” It’s as though they felt good idea would be enough. But the analysis
itself, the most important part, hadn’t been done.
Bishop: I see. Americans tend to resist doing as they are told. A lot of importance is
placed on asserting your viewpoint and creativity. I’m sure they felt there was
value in presenting a unique viewpoint.
JinK: I totally agree that just doing the work without thinking is not good.
And I understand that creativity is important, but there is a reason that the framework
was the way it was, and that wasn’t where I needed new opinions or viewpoints.
In Japan, if you did the same thing your boss would say “Quit talking back and just
do it!” I mean, the analysis itself was pretty dry work, so maybe they just didn’t
want to do it. But we missed the deadline as a result. It was terrible.
Bishop: That’s a good example of “Action rather than words” isn’t it? In Japan
it’s considered cooler to do things rather than say things.
JinK: That’s right. I think that’s really important.
Bishop: But isn’t it better when people can speak openly to each other? It gives everyone
a wider outlook on things, and in the end it leads to more interesting results.
But there’s definitely an atmosphere in Japanese companies where you can’t speak
so freely. I often say or write in emails what I am planning on doing, but my coworkers
say “you shouldn’t go so far. You can’t be absolutely sure you will be able to do that.
I don’t know… I suppose Americans and Japanese people feel a different level of
responsibility for doing what they said they would.
Jink: I think it’s true that there is a sense that you should always do what you said
you would, and shouldn’t make irresponsible statements if you can’t do that.
It’s shameful to not do something that you said you would. In the past, being
shamed and losing your honor meant that you would commit seppuku (ritual suicide).
Of course, nobody does that anymore, but when you don’t follow through on what
you said you would, you are severely reprimanded. Even if you don’t receive a specific
punishment, you’ll be thought of as untrustworthy at the very least, especially
at the working level.
Bishop: I see. So if we were in a different era, I’d have to commit seppuku? (ha ha)
JinK: Of course that wouldn’t happen in this day and age, so you can relax (ha ha),
but it goes to show how important it is to maintain one’s honor.
Bishop: I can see how it might be better not to say things if it means you’ll have to
take responsibility in such a harsh manner. By not saying things, you protect yourself.
It’s better to just not say anything and produce results, then talk about it
after the fact.
JinK: That’s a good point. There are probably some people who don’t say things to
protect themselves, just from the standpoint of how it benefits themselves. I wouldn’t
really put too much praise on those people, but it’s probably true that the majority of
people fall into that category. But the idea of “Action before words” is not so much
about protecting yourself, but more about how it is considered cool to do
what you should on your honor without telling the world about it.
Bishop: But telling people what you are going to do puts pressure on yourself,
so as a result might it not lead to even better results?
JinK: But the weight of the words of someone who actually does what they say vs.
someone who doesn’t is totally different; don’t you think you can trust someone
more who lives by “action rather than words”? In Japan, it’s thought that you
first need to deliver results before you can earn the right to speak out. So you’d
never have a new hire telling the company president what they think. Of course
the whole seniority system of Japanese companies plays a role in that, but also
it’s because they’ve never delivered any results, so they don’t know anything,
and therefore don’t have the right to speak out. In the U.S., you can call anyone
by their first name, and even new recruits can openly speak their mind. It’s
a different atmosphere, isn’t it?
Bishop: It may vary from company to company, but yes people are free to speak
their minds. Actually if you don’t speak your mind, it will be thought that
you are brining no value.
JinK: Japan is the opposite. No talking back. Just do it without saying anything.
Action rather than words is considered the coolest way to do things, and it allows
people to trust you. I think the younger generation may be changing their values
a little, but myself and others in the middle and older aged generation believe this.
On the other hand, you don’t want to take it too far and never say anything. I like
the American concept that if the idea is good, it doesn’t matter who said it, and
that there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers.
Bishop: That is one great thing about the U.S. But there is a tendency to say something,
be satisfied with that, and not follow through with it. It’s a shame when that happens.
JinK: That reminds me. Did you know that not telling people about your goals actually
increases the chance that you will follow through with them? (TED talk: Derek Sivers,
Keep your goals to your self) So action rather than words is not only cooler, it’s
also a powerful way to achieve better results. I think it’s a way of taking your regrets
and channeling that energy into action toward new plans. If you talk to others
about your plans, that releases some of that energy.
Bishop: Oh… that’s not good.
JinK: What’s wrong?
Bishop: I already told everyone around me about the things I want to accomplish.
All my energy is gone. I guess I’m a lost cause?
JinK: Hmm, in that case, set some higher goals for yourself, and keep them to yourself.
Just bounce your ideas off people! I think that’s a good compromise that takes the best
of both worlds
Fact#22. In Japan, “action rather than words” is considered to be cool.
by Bishop & JinK.