Why Career Goals Don’t Matter In Japan: Understanding the Japanese Salaryman’s Mindset

Understanding the Japanese Salaryman’s MindsetI started my career at a large commercial bank in Japan. Shortly after I received the offer, the HR manager asked me which department I wished to work in. Naturally, I told him my preference: the venture capital division.


I was sent to a different department, without receiving an explanation for that decision. I later discovered that the correct answer should have been a similar response to this:

Video conferencing: a winner in global collaboration

Phone Conference versus Video ConferenceI am constantly surprised by the number of people preferring to interact via e-mails and phone calls over video conferencing, especially when communicating and collaborating with their global colleagues.

  • “When I work from home I’m in my pajamas and don’t want to wear make-up”
  • “I feel uncomfortable to ask someone who’s at home to turn on his/her camera. ”
  • “E-mails are better because everything can be documented.”

Rude tourists in Japan

gyokutei nihon2Last December, I brought an American friend of mine to a hot spring. We decided to go for a luxury experience and went to a high end ryokan, a Japanese-style inn.

Here, you get to enjoy amazing food and hot springs experience in a wonderful atmosphere: a tourist magnet. Dinners at a high end ryokan are a relaxed, luxurious affair, where several different courses are brought to your room one by one, giving you the opportunity to savor and appreciate each dish fully and in peace.

A direct word for “google it, you dumb a**!”

ggrkYou may not believe it, but there is a word for "google it, you dumb ass" in Japanese: it’s pronounced "gu-gu-re-ka-su (#ggrks)."

The implied message of the word is this:
You’re cutting corners if you ask someone a question you can find an answer to later on and that you may even pass for disrespectful, as by doing so you’re wasting someone’s time.

Why Japanese don’t like small talk

Smalltalk“I don’t know why my boss in Dublin (Ireland) always starts our video conference by telling me what she did during the weekend. Why can’t we just dive into the meeting without wasting time?”

Many Japanese complain to me about how they don’t understand why their non-Japanese colleagues love small talk so much. "I have no problem when we’re talking about work" they say "but when it comes to small talk… I don’t know how to carry on the conversation and it’s a real pain.”

The one skill you should look for when interviewing freelancers

"So what is the secret for hiring good freelancers?"
I currently have 12 freelancers under my payroll from all over the world (2 personal assistants, 6 transcribers, 3 graphic designers, 1 web engineer) and have worked with over 100 freelancers on an ad hoc basis. I mostly hire freelancers via global crowdsourcing sites like oDesk (currently Upwork), Elance or freelancer.com.
I am constantly asked "the secret" in hiring good freelancers. Especially since you're never going to meet them face to face. My answer? Communication skill.

How do I hire a virtual personal assistant (VPA)?

Well the process is very simple.
  1. You put a job posting on Upwork (this is the one I'm using)
  2. Screen applications (you'll usually get around 20-30 applicants within the first 36 hours)
  3. Interview promising applicants
  4. Hire the right one and assign first task
Very straightforward, right? Finding someone is very easy. But finding someone good is extremely difficult. If you find the wrong person, you'll end up redoing all his/her work losing valuable time AND money. It also comes with a huge frustration.

Why you need to hire a virtual personal assistant

I am really bad in doing administrative tasks. I don't think I'm lazy (probably I am) but I simply don't get motivated getting small things done. I've read many how-to books about this subject but nothing seemed to work.
So what do I do? For the past 4 years, I've been working with a virtual personal assistant (VPA) living in the Philippines to do those small tasks for me. Kathrina, my VPA, has made my working life much easier. I cannot praise her enough. Here's just a couple:
  1. She never makes mistakes.
  2. She's very responsive.
  3. She never misses deadlines.
  4. She does work much faster than I do.
  5. She does this all for $5 per hour.

How the Nail that Sticks Up Gets Hammered Down

Some of you may have heard the old Japanese proverb “The nail which sticks up is hammered down.” Guides to doing business in Japan often illustrate this proverb using dress code (e.g., don’t wear flashy clothes to business meetings), but its meaning is much deeper than this.
A few years back, I helped organize a large conference in Tokyo, for which the goal was to have the young generation become more interested in politics. The speakers were top notch: CEO’s from established firms, a well-known TV news anchor, a journalist, a member of the National Diet, and a sociology professor from a prominent university. We invited young entrepreneurs and businesspeople on stage to discuss why young people aren’t voting and what we can do about it. Hundreds of college students came to watch this event. Then it happened…

How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs

Group ideation processes, when well designed and well facilitated, are capable of generating a host of highly attractive creative options, and occasionally truly breakthrough solutions, to virtually any business challenge.
- Bryan Mattimore
Last November, a Japanese multinational company asked me whether I had any suggestions for a full day training session for its 4 Asian branches (China, South Korea, Taiwan, and India) during its annual Asia week. I had no hesitations: “Let’s do an ideation workshop!”
I had facilitated full day ideation workshops for a global motorcycle company’s Japanese dealerships last spring and helped them come up with three “kick-ass” ideas to improve customer experience. I was excited about conducting the same type of workshop, teaching creative-thinking tools and techniques to help participants come up with innovative yet practical ideas, with a more diverse group of participants in English.