Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Marking Territory vs. Teaching a Race

“I think that there are a couple of levels at play here. One level is ‘who’ the person is. For example when I worked in New York, I saw someone come from another market to take on a very senior position there and to me it looked like a dog pissing on fire hydrants marking territory – so that stuff does happen. Here in Japan, because the culture is so different and because people don’t understand it right off people tend to jump to conclusions very quickly – “Oh you guys don’t know? I’m going to show you” – that happens much more. (CB: So maybe the guy going from London to Chicago or whatever, that kind of thing is more status or hierarchy driven?) Yes. I also think that it is more individually driven compared to here where they think they are teaching the Japanese people as a whole race “you guys just don’t know, let me show you”. I find the reactions to this rather interesting because sometimes the Japanese people that they are talking to just play along like “wow isn’t that interesting, that’s amazing”. Later though you find out that they were thinking “what an asshole”. Of course there are other times where they fight and disagree right from the start though.
I think that the Japanese way is not to reveal yourself or the cards that you hold right away. It takes time. They’re just more careful. Whereas in America and the U.K. it’s all just out there right away – take it or leave it. And also if someone challenges something you do or say people are usually thick-skinned enough to say “oh you’re right that’s a better way thank you”. In Japan though people don’t want to be embarrassed and they try very hard to avoid that. If they’re wrong about something they are punished or very harsh on themselves.”