Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Don’t Teach, Learn

“Don’t teach. Learn. The logic process here is different and I think that the approach is too. Whereas Western culture tends to focus on the individual Japan has succeed on focusing on a ‘we’re all in it together’mindset. As a result I think the education system is quite different and how prepared or not prepared people are straight out of university is quite different and this has a huge impact on how people behave. Again, it’s not right or wrong it’s just different.

Any foreign manager coming into Japan who is not open-minded and not willing to learn cannot succeed. Maybe if they are given total authority they will be able to demand results and in the short term that will be OK. But what have I noticed with the big companies who have overbearing ex-pats at the top is that people just kind of put their heads down with the view that in two or three years the ex-pat would be gone. They just had to endure it. For people who are committed to being here and spending their careers here though you can’t be that way.
Put yourself in the opposite position in America or New Zealand. If some Japanese guy came over said “OK I’m going to tell you how to do things here” what would your reaction be? – It’s obvious what you would think, so why would you expect any different here?
(CB: Why do you think that people come here with that attitude?) I can only speak from the point of view of the industry I’m in because I haven’t worked for other companies but from that point of view, they come here with a mission. When you have foreigners here on business, whether they are in management or whether they are engineers or whatever they are usually coming here for a set period of time with a mission from head office – ‘Your job is to go and accomplish this.’ Because they don’t have a long-term commitment to be here they need to get results quick. They’re not being measured by local standards, they’re being measured by their boss back in wherever. If it is the case that their boss back wherever doesn’t want to hear about cultural differences in creative approach or whatever and they just say ‘where are the results John?’ then they will have to do things that they feel will get them the required results in a short period of time so that they can move on to their next assignment.
In this light I think one advantage we have here is that we don’t have those short-term management staff. We can take the long-term approach just as if we were building this place back home. We are going to be here forever so we want to do it the right way. All the other managers need short-term results to show to their bosses back home that they are worth their ex-pat packages. A lot of ex-pats come here and have a really good experience – “I loved Japan, I went to Kyoto, the cherry blossoms were lovely” and so on – It’s kind of like a really nice tour of duty.”