Fact#22. Is “action rather than words” cool?

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.


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