Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

The Passive-Aggressive

“If you look at change models, you know on average, about 2% of the population enjoys change, but another 16% will go along with it because they can see that it’s required. Another 30% will go along with it if the key opinion leaders do, because they are just kind of followers and another 30% will go along with it because it’s reached critical mass and they have no choice. But you will always have a 10-15% group at the bottom that in a Western company would quit, but in Japan they don’t – they’ll just be disgruntled and passive aggressive……… These people are the greatest inhibitors to creativity and innovation; passive-aggressive people who actually work as a counter against innovation.”

“In Japan there is never really any overt opposition to anything because harmony is the goal but there is what we call passive aggression, where people will agree to your face and go ahead and undermine through the nemawashi – create the allies and divide the team. That’s really inhibiting to the creation of high performance teams in Japan and a lot of foreigners don’t even know that it’s going on.”

“In the West those people will be vocal, and they’ll put out the word and they’ll leave. They’ll do a mid-career shift. Japanese won’t do that. They’ll stick around and they’ll stay for 20 more years – literally. They’ll even take a pay cut. You can’t fire them. They’ll let you demote them, cut their pay and shove them in a back room. They’ll take whatever dusty old job you have and they’ll just wait for their pension. It’s a different orientation. They’re in the job for security, not money or personal ambition. They derive their status from their business card. They work for the company.”

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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