Quality, Rewards, and Management LO13770

Thu, 29 May 1997 13:02:49 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO13755 --


I sent Ben's message on to a women network I belong to and got back this long
but interesting series of comments -- thought it an interesting cultural
review (and in somewhat the same "learning" mode). This is a long post.

Copied message:
Your message has gone through a couple of lists, and on one I had the
opportunity to comment on it. Interestingly, the most cogent comments came
from a Japan-US business list. I'm including most of the exchange below,
except for the lists it was forwarded to.

>>Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 01:38:54 +0900
>>To: fukuzawa@UCSD.EDU
>>From: davald@do-johodai.ac.jp (Dave Aldwinckle)
>>Subject: IRONY: Row Your Boat Pt 2
>>I don't want to be seen as a person who can't get a joke, but let me take
>>up DT Friedman's friend's powerful parable. The problem is that while it
>>depicts Dilbert-style shortcomings in American business, its cardboard
>>characterization of the Japanese side reinforces the image of Japan as
>>invulnerable and insuperable. Don't think so. So let's turn it on it's
>>head and give it from my impression of a "Japanese perspective", much the
>>same way as Oliver Stone tried to do in his underrated movie HEAVEN AND
>>EARTH (where he uniquely tried to depict the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese
>>perspective). Nobody got it in America, and the movie flopped. Let's see
>>how I fare.
>>American and Japanese big business decided to engage in a competitive crew
>>race, and the Japanese plunged headfirst into groundwork. The pertinent
>>ministries fought for turf, and the usuals won; MITI and MOF designated
>>boat racing as a specific industry ripe for development, entitled to the
>>usual protections and preferences. Both targeted funding and threatened
>>industrial noncooperants with administrative guidance. Crew shingikai and
>>iinkai sprouted out of "nowhere", and feelers were sent out through Mitsui,
>>the Toudai graduate network, and several Peace Foundations. Which country
>>had the best boat design? Photographers were soon dispached to Oxbridge,
>>where they took snapshots of every inch of prizewinning boats and crew
>>member postures. After this information was incorporated into the
>>well-funded R&D departments of several boat keiretsu, the crew boat was
>>launched with great fanfare, ceremony, and hours and hours of portentous
>>speeches with ribbons, scissors, and confetti balls. Kume Hiroshi even
>>devoted a third of several broadcasts to the development of a new sport for
>>Japanese to get good at.
>>Now it was time to find the crew. Having spent most of their childhood
>>going to "crew juku" to pass entrance crew exams (and facing both
>>figurative--and literal--"crew cuts"), eight rowers (and one amakudaried
>>steerer) were found that would not only look good on a commercial for
>>vitamin energy drinks, but also would devote their lives to the art of
>>paddling. They even hired a token Oxonian crew member (by law, they were
>>only limited to one), whose experience would enhance the crew's stature and
>>prowess, provide good PR for Japan's kokusaika, and give the crew a gaijin
>>who could be fired if somebody needed to be.
>>The crew spent every waking moment pumping. On the way to work, they'd
>>practice their swings on the subway platform. During morning chourei,
>>below slogan-spangled banners, they'd give apparently inspiring speeches
>>about putting in a day's hard row for the good of the crew. During the
>>day, if they weren't out schmoozing with bureaucrats and other crew
>>sponsors, they'd spend the day pushing things back and forth in the name of
>>practice, while the expendable "crew ladies" served tea. During the
>>evening, they would spend hours overtime looking busy stroking until the
>>steerer went home. On the way home they'd sail over to a boat bar and sink
>>themselves. Good thing the government was keeping overseas crews from
>>entering Japan and schmoozing their sponsors away.
>>At last, the Japanese crew were ready, and on Race Day they faced off
>>against the Americans. The pride of Japan was riding on this, and
>>incentives indicated they could not lose. A huge ouenkai, with hinomaru
>>banners, bandannas, and brass band, appeared on the sidelines to cheer if
>>they won, razz if they didn't. A flotilla of reporters (particularly TV
>>Asahi's, which always found ways to get around any obstacle) surrounded
>>them, with huge Canons shooting every single movement. One false move, and
>>stop-action color photos would be appearing in every single sports daily,
>>analyzing how inept any single crew member was. Most of all, the prospect
>>of beating the crime-ridden Americans added the real Jolt to their cola.
>>The Japanese won by a mile. The next year two miles. Great fanfare was to
>>be had and, in the wake, the sense of Japanese crew superiority was
>>reaffirmed to the entire world. American MBA programs sent their students
>>to do internships behind Japanese oars, and management gurus latched onto
>>the catchphrase of "Japan is a circle", due to the fine synchonized style
>>the crew displayed while rowing round and round. And the Japanese
>>government chuckled in private about how this all was, after all, their
>>doing--while in public their gaijin handlers kept up the kabuki about how
>>open markets and free competition kept their rowers lean and mean.
>>The crew members were never fired. Over the course of many years of
>>racing, some graduated up to be steerers, making the boat full of bosses
>>and list to one side. Several times capsizes were feared, but seats were
>>added to the boat and called "growth". The enormous crew was assisted by
>>"anti-overcompetitive laws", which stifled the new entry of both domestic
>>and overseas crews, and also by accounting rules that allowed dead crew
>>members to be still counted as assets.
>>But of the original crew members :
>>The steerer was caught bribing a government bureaucrat, and resigned to
>>take responsibilty.
>>One rower, after stroking every day, including weekends, for at least
>>twelve hours a day, died of karoushi.
>>Two other rowers became stricken with cancer-related ailments due to taking
>>up smoking habits--the only way that they could leave their oars for a
>>break was by going to the smoking room for some puffs.
>>The token gaijin was laid off after a mandatory three-year contract, and,
>>after hearing several translated speeches on how much Japan's crew culture
>>had been fortified in this joint venture with Oxford, went home to
>>obscurity. He was swiftly replaced by a real Japanese and forgotten.
>>The other five just took their base-ups and regular steerage appointments,
>>and faced early mandatory retirement when the boat looked like it was going
>>to sink below the water line.
>>None of the nine saw their children grow up.
>>But at least Japan kept winning the races.
>>Dave Aldwinckle
>>X-Sender: dtf@pop.ben2.ucla.edu
>>Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 05:19:44 +1000
>>To: fukuzawa@UCSD.EDU
>>From: DT Friedman <dtf@ucla.edu>
>>Subject: Re: IRONY: Row Your Boat Pt 2
>>You know, I hesitated before forwarding my friend's joke, precisely because
>>I knew that I was leaping into a lion's den full of hungry and overserious
>>Japan people.
>>Japan scholars/specialists though we all are, sometimes it doesn't hurt to
>>avoid overintellectualizing and just enjoy the world through the eyes of
>>non-Japan people. It should be possible to understand that it is indeed a
>>"cardboard characterization of the Japanese side," decide, oh, what the
>>hell, and chuckle anyway.
>>And, as I think about it, a big reason that DFS is the only place that I
>>forwarded it to is exactly because of what Dave Aldwinckle says: I'd rather
>>send it to a bunch of people who understand _both_ sides of the fence, then
>>send it on to non-specialist friends, with the result that I'd end up
>>helping to perpetuate a stereotype.
>>who spent several years working for Japanese companies and is as immune to
>>the Japan, Inc stereotypes as anyone
>>D.T. Friedman
>>University of California, Los Angeles
>>Department of Political Science
>>Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 22:41:18 -0500
>>From: "Kingdon R. Hughes" <74603.3271@compuserve.com>
>>Subject: IRONY: Row Your Boat Pt 2
>>To: Dave Aldwinckle <davald@do-johodai.ac.jp>
>>Cc: Dead Fukuzawa Society <fukuzawa@UCSD.EDU>
>>< ..... But at least Japan kept winning the races.>
>>I try to avoid re-posting entire messages, but I chuckled along with your
>>post all the way until the very last line above.
>>I agree with many that the Japanese industrial policy is arguably the best
>>existing model for transforming a lesser developed economy of substantial
>>size (as opposed to Singapore) into a developed economy. However, with
>>regard to a model of industrial policy for developed or mature (whatever
>>that means) economies, the verdict is not yet established that Japan will
>>keep on "winning" (however that might be measured). Although it might be
>>argued that it is the very adaptability of a Japanese model for industrial
>>policy which will ensure its eventual success as a mature economy, it
>>should not be forgotten that with regard to mature economies, it is quite
>>possibly the USA which already provides the most sophisticated, tested and
>>developed working model for public/private sector cooperation, in the form
>>of its military/industrial/aerospace complex, in which sucess arguably
>>outweighs failure.
>>The challenge remains to disassociate, in the minds of those indoctrinated
>>as rigid advocates of Adam Smith, the undesirable aspects of a "Japanese"
>>model of industrial policy in particular, and the idea of "industrial
>>policy" in general, from the benefits to be gained from maximizing the
>>potential of the working model which the USA already possesses. If that
>>might be achievable, a good place to start might be assigning highest
>>priority to commercialization of dual-use technologies. I realize that it
>>is not an election year; however, if Santa Clause still might be in a gift
>>bearing mood, expansion of such kinds of initiatives such as the flat panel
>>display consortium would do far more to push things in the right kind of
>>direction than a few token Mansfield scholarships. If that kind of
>>"industrial policy", for lack of a better term, should happen to become a
>>very top priority, I will promise to never ever flame Bungalow Bill again
>>on DFS during an election year.
>>Fukoku Kyohei
[And my addition to the thread:]

I think I'd all a postscript to this, to the effect that after the second
loss several American entrepreneurs independently looked at the problem to
figure out how to win next time.

One of them used technology to develop a boat that rowed itself. Another
one imported a rowing ace from Oxford to train a crack team (including
several people who paid to join so they could learn to become trainers). A
third entrepreneur sank much of his fortune in hiring the best boat
builders, the best oarsmen, and the best helmsmen. A fourth entrepreneur
got foundation money to develop a Native American team, arguing that canoe
skills were strong in this group. Someone else raised private funds for an
all-women crew, and the VA underwrote a team of people who could not use
their legs, but whose upper-body strength made them the equal of any other
team in rowing.

Several colleges started offering courses in rowing, and developed teams of
their own, some of them with very unorthodox approaches (academic freedom
-- no requirement for results). The private for-profit Rowing Learning
Center started advertising on television. Some elementary school districts
incorporated rowing into the curriculum not to create competitive rowers,
but because it allowed them to teach writing and mathematics with new

Meanwhile, the big businesses started commissioning studies of public
reaction, which got the public actually interested in the issue (there had
been little interest before).

Within a few years a new industry had been born in the U.S., as yet with no
standards and little understanding of what rowing was going to mean to the
way people lived and worked.

Market leaders came and went, and with them their unique approaches to
rowing. New kinds of boats and boating accessories, and new approaches to
rowing (face front/face back/face side) were being hailed as the "best."
Lots of people who didn't know an oar from an oat found themselves immersed
in the language of rowing, and rowing became such a part of the culture
that people couldn't remember a time without it.

And maybe Japan kept winning the races, and maybe once in a while the U.S.
team prevailed, but U.S. culture -- and the cultures that it influenced --
was inexorably changed; people were smarter about rowing and ready to
accept it as a part of life with its attendant mixed blessing. So who
really won?

Judith Axler Turner, Principal
Turner Consulting Group
(202) 986-3463
>>When you are serious about the Internet<<

Patricia Frame
Strategies for Human Resources




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