Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Contribute, Don’t Preach

“Another thing particular to Japan is that a lot of foreigners come here, particularly in our industry, to ‘teach people how to do things right’ – an attitude of ‘we’ll teach these guys consulting’ ‘we’ll teach these guys research’ and so on and so on. In my 10-12 years of being here I have seen so many people like that. We try not to be that way as a company and as individuals because unless you are talking about mathematics there is never only one way to do something. Also, the society and culture here is so advanced that it would not be relevant to act that way. Really, if Japan had enough natural resources they wouldn’t need anybody here at all. They’d just be exporting stuff.

In my career here when I have come across negative things I have had to be very sensitive to the fact that I am not here to teach. In a lot of developing markets (of which Japan is not one, of course) people are open and looking for new ideas – “show me how to open a factory” “show me how to run a store”, that kind of thing. I went to Vietnam a little while ago and was so impressed with how open-minded everybody is. They want to learn. In Japan however, there has always been this bubble of “well in Japan we do things this way”. I understand it as a kind of attitude of “we know how to do things, so contribute to it or add to it but don’t tell us how to do it like you think we don’t know how to do it”. I have always tried to be sensitive in that area.”