Japanese culture explained in one photo

People frequently ask me to explain why their Japanese colleagues and/or business partners conduct business the way they do. I explain why, give advice and yes, most people say they got it. But I often wonder whether they really “got it.” Understanding culture is difficult and usually cannot be easily explained in words.
Last August, I gave a crash course on Japanese culture via webinar for the executives of a global entertainment company. When I showed a photo of a typical train station and described the morning rush hour commute, there was clearly an “A-ha moment” for the executives. Many interesting questions were asked (e.g. “Why is the person wearing a mask?”). The Japanese mindset of conformity and consistency was captured in this one simple photo.

3 Tips for Collaborating with Global Creative Talents

Have you ever collaborated with a creative person who is overseas, say a web designer in India, and the whole experience turned out to be a nightmare?
Working globally with creatives is challenging. Why? Because communicating with them is difficult. Creatives communicate and think differently than we business people do. And if you fail to connect with them and tap into their creativity, you’ll end up doing most of the work and producing a mediocre design/product. In today’s environment, the complexity multiplies since you will most likely be working with someone who is a non-native English speaker in a virtual setting (e.g. via Skype).

Native English speakers must re-learn English

Ever felt anxious after communicating with your non-native English speaking global counterpart in fear that he/she didn't fully understood you? If so, probably you're right. She didn't. But before you blame on her English proficiency, you might want to blame on yourself and consider re-learning how you communicate in English.
For the past three years, I have been training non-native business people (mainly Japanese) how to speak up and contribute in global business meetings. I always felt that it was the non-natives that need to learn how to speak-up to communicate effectively with native English speakers.
But recently, I found out that this only solves half of the problem.  Yes, non-natives need to learn how to speak up but equally important, native English speakers must learn how to speak down,

The answer is inside the company

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 W. Mattimore
Have you ever hear of the word "Ideation Facilitator?" Ideation is a word derived from "Idea" and "Creation." The role of an ideation facilitator is to gather all stakeholders in one place and conduct a day or two workshop, facilitating a problem solving session coming up with new & innovative ideas to virtually almost any business challenge companies are facing today.
Recently, I read a book written by an ideation facilitation guru called the "Idea Stormers." I tell you, this book is just blew my mind!

Why Japanese don’t clarify even though they’re confused

I often get surprised reactions when I tell my non-Japanese friends that we, Japanese, do not stop you for clarification even if we get confused.
For those who are “confused” by this fact, I’ll try to do the best I can to explain. First, let me give an example:
I recently was talking to a friend who works one floor below my office. He looked very upset, certainly annoyed about something. So I asked him what happened. This is how the conversation rolled out (in Japanese, of course):

Are you ready for global competition?

"Creativity as a topic at Davos (World Economic Forum) has moved from optional to +essential+."
John Maeda, President, Rhode Island School of Design

Recently, I was invited to give a talk at a Croud Sourcing Summit here in Tokyo since I am one of very few users of oDesk, a global outsourcing site, in Japan. I wanted my audience to get a feel of what it's like to outsource jobs abroad so I decided to show a short 2 minute video at the end of my presentation. This blew the audience off. Here's the video I showed them (the shock is at around 47 seconds into the video).

oDesk, a site that will scare you off

“I'm making in a week on oDesk what I made in a month as a schoolteacher, and I get to spend far more time with my family.”
-A freelance copywriter in Pakistan (exempt from the Economist)
If you haven't heard of a site called oDesk, you definitely need try this out. You have every reason to be scared this site. Whether you know it or not, everyone, especially living in the developed world, is currently being affected by this site.
I've been using this site for nearly 2 years now and I tell you, the more I use this site, the more I get scared. oDesk, which has boomed in the past couple of years, is a global job marketplace where you can tap into talents from all over the world. In short, it's an outsourcing site where you can basically outsource anything. Yes, anything!
Whether you want someone to do research for you over the web, create a sophisticated database system, or create a logo, you will be able to find someone to do this about a tenth of a price you're currently asking for if you live in the developed country. You can hire a Harvard MBA class freelancer for $20 per hour to do work for you.

The Seven Commandments

"Why are Japanese businesspeople so resistant to change?"
A buddy of mine  from business school asked me this question while we were having dinner. The company he works for recently bought a Japanese firm and he was trying to integrate his company's "way of doing things" to the newly bought firm but experiencing difficulty.
So I decided to explain this through writing and came up with "The Seven Commandments" of a typical Japanese businessperson's mindset to help him better deal with Japanese businesspeople. He found it very interesting so I decided to share it on this blog . This is a very  rough draft so I am open to any comments or suggestions to polish/change the these commandments.

The Seven Commandments

  1.  We will not ask you questions to clarify even though we are confused.
    1. When growing up, we were constantly told by our parents/teachers/classmates:
      “Did you look it up by yourself before asking?”
      “You don’t even know that! How embarrassing?”
    2. Having been shamed with the above question for many years, we stop asking questions and will look up by ourselves later on where we got confused.

How to differentiate yourself

This (book) is not a how-to. The reason I find how-tos discomfiting is that there is always the slim chance that people may actually take them on faith. What business-people need today is a fresh set of insights, not a fresh set of instructions.
–Youngme Moon
Last year I read more than 80 books in all genres. If asked what was the best one, I would no doubt answer “Different (by Youngme Moon)”.
I first heard this book through audiobook. While listening to this book, many new ideas came to mind so I had to basically stop the book many times to write down the ideas. After I finished listening to it, I found the book so inspiring that I listened to it again. Ideas kept flowing in so I decided to buy a copy of the book. This rarely happens…

Beyond hyper-crisis

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.
–J.K. Rowling
The commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005 ending “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is legendary even here in Japan. But the commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, at Harvard University in 2008 is not widely known.
It’s hard to find people who don’t know Ms. Rowling, especially her book nowadays. But in her speech, she tells a story when she had been striking an uneasy balance between her ambition to be a novelist and her parents' expectation for her to see the reality when she was growing up.