A book about the British way of life – “The British clear cut, simple way of working: How they achieve results with the minimum necessary effort” – has just been published in Japan, written by Kazuya Yamazaki, who lived in the UK for 12 years, practising as an architect. He recommends that Japan adopt the British attitude as a way of dealing with an ageing, post-industrial society. This does, however, mean that Japan has to drop its “customer is god” belief.
He asserts Japanese business people experience unnecessary stress being pushed around by unreasonable demands from their colleagues and customers. The UK has the image of a mature, “country of gentlemen” where people try to get to the pub before it gets dark and give the impression of not working that hard. However, Yamazaki says, through meeting many types of British people in the course of his work, he has come to realise that the British people have the knowledge of how to live in a matured country and not to struggle for impossible growth.
He contrasts this with the “majime” of Japanese people. Majime is one of those untranslatable Japanese concepts – a mix of serious, earnest, honest, diligent, solemn. Japanese “read the air”, “are strict about punctuality”, “rigorous in their provision of customer service”, “try to do their work perfectly” it is said. Majime is of course meant positively, but can be the cause of excessive stress, he says, and I cannot but agree. And this is particularly bad, I understand, in Japanese architectural firms where I have heard it is the norm to sleep under the desk at night.
Yamazaki is keen to say he does not mean the British are not serious, rather that they have the secret of how to “unhunch” their shoulders and produce results, step by step. The key is to be warikitta “clear cut”, or rational in your thinking, Yamazaki stresses. For example, rather than aiming for 100%, aim for 70% if it achieves your objectives.
The customer and the supplier are equal in the UK, says Yamazaki. The British way of communicating reflects this. It may seem like they are being argumentative, but the idea is to debate, exchange opinions and through this find areas of compromise and pitfalls in each others arguments. “Good enough” may feel to Japanese like they have given up, but for the British there is no such negative connotation. It has two meanings – firstly, for present purposes, it is sufficient, and it is a decision not to make unnecessary efforts. Secondly, rather than try to achieve what has been decided, keep calculating backwards from the objective. Japanese people instead think too much about what should be, trying to do what has been decided in the way it was decided it should be done. Of course it is important to carry out what has been decided, says Yamazaki, but if you try to do it perfectly you end up taking unnecessary steps, which is a waste.
In a way it’s easier not to change, to just carry out what you have been told is the decision. To be flexible, and change as necessary, reviewing the problem, requires wide knowledge and experience. It may sound as if a “matured country” has no further way to develop, but Yamazaki thinks that if Japan could be more “clear cut” about what to choose and what to throw out, it could clear a path to the future.
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