Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Advantages to being Non-Japanese

“There are advantages to not being Japanese though. You can start jumping up and down and yelling ‘come on!’ but you could not do that if you were a Japanese person. There would be too many rules and obligations. Being a foreigner means that I can break those rules. I’ve been in brainstorming sessions with Japanese people sitting there silently and me thinking that the whole thing is rubbish. In order to liven things up a bit I have been able to say ‘come on, we can do this’ and start getting excited and acting like a cheerleader. And you know what? You start to get results. Maybe they feel that they can talk because it’s not a formal Japanese room.
We’ve done workshops in Japanese with foreigners in the room who spoke fluent Japanese and it’s learning the devices that people need to use – the icebreakers etcetera to get things moving. It’s having that cultural knowledge that the ‘brainstorm’ in the classic sense of the word does not work in Japan. You need to understand what works and what doesn’t work, and how you get the same results but in a different format. I don’t think that a Japanese person would put themselves in the same positions that I do. Sometimes I have seen moderators here, when we have used them to facilitate conversations and I have wanted to go over and shake them and tell them that we’re not getting what we need…that’s a bit frustrating….”

This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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