Under Control

JAPAN AND GENERATION X

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Bob Morley and I've just turned 30 and I am not taking it well. I've been working on high-tech products since I was old enough to solder. I've worked for Functional Automation, Modicon, Flavors Technology and Eloquent systems, to name a few. I already have a couple of start-up companies under my belt, with about fifty-fifty success rate. I've also done quite bit of work with the Japanese.

Yaskawa, the Motoman company, sent some of its employees to work at Flavors Technology for nothing. Considering or budget at the time, this was a great boon. But I believe, Japan's culture inhibits quality software generation.

The proof? Of the five software engineers that Yaskawa sent us, I got to know two well. The engineers worked hard, and were loyal and committed. However, the Japanese seem to have layers of management for every facet of life, even when playing splatball. The highest-ranking Yaskawa employee ruled the other employees, even outside of the workplace. For splatball, the others would never lead or take the initiative. As a result, we would take out the leader, and rest were easy targets.

They are also very concerned with "Saving Face". The Japanese I've known never want to be put in the position of saying NO. They think it is rude. For instance, if an American needs a ride somewhere, he'll say "Hey, can you give me a lift?". If you wanted a ride from a Japanese, you might be wise to start with, " I don't have my car." Then mention, "I had better get started, it's a long walk," and so on, until, finally, he would offer a ride. It leads to very wordy interactions.

In written agreements and conversations, as well, "Saving Face" comes to bear. The Japanese don't actually say no. Instead they have two responses: a weak affirmative and a strong YES. Any company getting involved in Asian markets has to understand this. At Flavors, we had a product line fail due to just this type of miscommunication. It cost us dearly.

If you want to have a good working relationship with the Japanese, my suggestion is not to rely on paper. Go and find out what's happening. Do exchange programs, a way of trading information they are quite enthusiastic about. They'll learn a lot, but you will too.

It's important to address the cultural gap. We were a small start-up company at Flavors, so we all had multiple job roles. While designing GUIs (graphical user interfaces), I also made a video for the express purpose of hitting up Yaskawa for venture capital. We translated the audio into Japanese, with the correct dialect and the correct "posture". We had great success, counted in the millions, and we did it by making sure we were in tune with their culture.

So what do they want from us? They need software. They need innovation. Something that we can supply. They are always in search of something to refine. Lately it's products with the latest chips and techniques, like: fuzzy sets and penta chips. Then they say, "We want standards". It confused me at first: why would standards in communications, designs and protocols be so desirable? Because it makes it easy to refine products. They are hungry for anything that can help them refine techniques and make them more responsive, agile manufacturers. The Japanese excel at refinement. Even their language is a refined version of Chinese.

It always puzzles me when the Japanese are viewed as the enemy. Yes, if you are lazy and overconfident, you have to worry. But they have a lots to offer, and they are superb businessmen. I have encountered many American venture capitalists and find that they have to be catered to and sold. The money, if it ever comes, is long and hard. Frankly, the Japanese aren't like that. Maybe they have more faith in American ingenuity and innovation than we do.

So what does the future hold? I suspect that Japan is going the way of California. Its economic climate is not good, to say the least. The new generation wants a living standard like ours, and is willing to sacrifice its heritage to get it. The work ethic is deteriorating, and the Korean and the Chinese are turning into better competitors. They are learning, as America is, that you have to swim harder every day, to stay above water. Communication can be tough, but it's a must. Our livelihood is entwined with that of everyone else. The world is getting too small for bigotry and fear of the unknown.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine January 1994 Page 54
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