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I ran into one of my favorite major company executive at a train station today.Our exchange was brief, but what he said blew my mind.
Exec:“How many people do you have in your company now?”
Me:“Oh, it’s not like that!I work as an independent contractor on project bases now.”
Exec:“What?! No! Person with great ability should form a company to provide jobs for others!”
I usually give him hard time, especially at public conferences asking him hard questions.This time, he paid me back for them all, and more.
Social responsibility.I’ve never even dreamed about my role in that context.I know it’s not unique to Japanese society, since there is shining example such as what Howard Schultz did with Starbucks.I thought my range of social responsibility ended at providing for my family, raising kids who will make contributions to the society.
This conversation reminded me of what another major company executive I admire said to me a few years ago.
“People with great ability can take care of themselves.What we need to do is take care of those people who depends on us to provide jobs.”
When I travel, little things I see, new smell stimulate me, and those things make memories of experiences, including work I did there. And more I travel, more I appreciate the beauties around me at home, more I appreciate things I take for granted that are very Japanese.
Just a little walk around my neighborhood in Yokohama today. From Shibuya, it's about 20 minutes train ride to the Hiyoshi station, then 30 minutes walk from the station. These are the kind of images that come back to me when my mind is wandering:
Really narrow alley between houses.
Entrance to an ordinary park.
For the past 15 years or so, more and more Japanese are decorating their home with non traditional flowering gardening plants. Definitely, the suburban scene has become cheerful and gay looking, compared to subdued, controlled look of the past. Availability of these plants inexpensively through home centers that has become popular over the past 15 years probably accelerated the spread of gardening. I love the sight and smell, especially seasonal flowers.
Banboo grass can still be seen here and there, but they are not as common as they used to be.
Blooming hydrangea means June, monsoon season in Tokyo area. We tend to associate this flower with rain.
Some wealthy homes. Come to think of it, I am not "friends" with kind of people who own these kind of homes. Which makes my view very lopsided, indeed! I realize my attitude is not representative of group of people who live in this kind of homes. Fascinating!
Someone's lush garden in front, lavender about to bloom, already emitting exquisite fragrance. Planting lavender has been relatively new things in suburban neighborhood in Tokyo, but it seems more and more people are planting them. Now I will associate lavender scent with June rain, beginning of hot summer.
Background building is a public junior high school. This is a typical school building all over Japan. The design hasn't changed until recently. This concrete building is like an oven in summer and refregirater in winter. Along with office buildings and residential buildings, we need to think about what would be the most appropriate education buildings for Tokyo weather. Very humid, 4 season with really hot summer and cold winter.
The day after I got back from SF, I had a presentation for design concept report at the client site with one of my partners.I am really pleased with how this project turned out.Thorough communication with the client, their contact person, good inputs from project members, neat report I collaborated to create with my partner in expressing exactly as we felt, good presentation on the report to have meaningful interaction with the client team members.Another thing I am pleased with myself with this project is that on the last leg, which was the preparation for the presentation, was done in about 50 hours period, working with time difference, with key factors being:
1.Kinko’s laptop station in SF to download presentation parts prepared by my partner, using 3G mobile phone to talk to him as I downloaded the presentation
2.Power outlet on airplane that allowed me to work for about 4 hours during the flight.I was so lucky because the power outlet was available in my area of the economy class
3.Using web storage to share large files, this time Tokyo Gas free web based service
I was confident going into the presentation with thorough preparation, had a good reaction during the presentation, and good feedback after the presentation. Another great thing about finale to this project phase is that I did it while having a wonderful vacation with my husband. I wasn't too happy about not having a LAN connection in our hotel, but no matter since I was less than 5 minutes drive away from Kinko's. I started working on the presentation on the last night in SF, after having had a good walk around downtown SF.I worked at Kinko’s for an hour while N was walking around the nearby shopping center.We got back to the hotel room, packed, relaxed.Then next morning, I went to Kinko’s and worked for about 30 minutes, while again my husband walked around the nearby shopping center.After I was done with my work, we found a nice café called Crepevine’s and had good ol’ breakfast, then drove to the airport.
Sure, I am not making much money off of this project.But that’s the way it goes.Sometimes, I get paid a lot for not much effort or time.Sometimes, I get paid very little, maybe nothing, for work that I put a lot into.But overall, it always works out.Maybe the universal law of energy and force.Whatever the effort I put into, as total sum, life gives me back exact same amount.
Tokyo is full of fun and exciting distraction, cool stuff, fascinating stuff, all these things I can experience at the stores, and take the experience home with me should I choose to buy any little thing!!I think this is it.Arts and beauty are all integrated into experience of retail consumption nowadays.We don’t need to go to any amusement parks, museums.We just go shopping or dining at tens and thousands of places available in Tokyo, and even if we don’t buy anything, we are stimulated in all 5 senses.Like right now, foods and drinks smell so good in this pleasant café, polite people around who don’t bother you but make you feel like you are still connected by choosing to be here, nice music in the background, stimulating movements outside of the window I am facing, cold outside but warm inside.My sight, taste, sound, touch, smell, all these senses are completely happy.
In big cities of advanced countries, because so much of our experience comes from this kind of thing, being outside of home or work and experience pleasant things, we are divorcing home and work from the social third place. In Japan, increasingly home is the place to be alone, or with your immediate family, and a few very good friends, and to rest.Workplace is what?Maybe it should become place to shut out all the others to focus on creating shape on what you do as work, such as to outpour your idea on CAD, sketch, writing?And then to have “work talk” meetings, to talk about stuff you shouldn’t in public about your competition, your client?
The old model communication I am talking about is people working across the border with the advantage of time difference, where some decision could be relayed just slow enough that the people at the other side of the border could not affect the decision made by your side.
10 years ago, when US company based in Japan decided to move, a lot of the US headquarters wishes were not executed with the excuse that the details of the wishes did not reach the implementers in Japan in time. The excuses could have been: fax did not come through because the paper ran out during the evening, message on the voice mail was not clear, when Japan side tried calling during the business hours in US, the person responsible for particular matter was not at his/her desk. These excuses could have been used to stall any action easily for 2 days, and often for 1 week. If some holidays were involved, which happened regularly, 2 weeks to 1 month delay was common.
Although this old model communication is outdated now, majority of people from mid 30s and older who have been with foreign company based in Japan still live by this old model. They regularly attend conference calls, write dozens of e-mails everyday, some even do IM. They have laptop computers at home, use broadband which connects to their company intranet, mobile phone that they keep by their side 24 hours a day, and even receive e-mails on their mobile phone. And they still live by this old model communication, thinking stalling is still a valid business tool.
What happens is such behavior only creates mistrust and frustration. Not only that, since this old model communication no longer works and the headquarters people find out just in time to cancel the project or change the specs of interior finish or whatever, additional costs incurs from stalling the flow of commuincation.
I know this, because I have been living the change of communication speed for the past 15 years. I've watched how people manupulate the communication speed to do what they wanted to do for many years, and for the past few years, manupulation is becoming more and more difficult. The new model communication is much harder on Japan side, because the conference calls and phone calls, urgent e-mails are still done during business hours of headqurater country, and often it involves 2 or 3 time zones within US. Also, Japanese employee's action is still based on command and control where managers decision is simply executed. I have not yet seen anybody officially say to their manager, I belive things are this way, and it should be done this way instead of the way you tell us to do.
So the solution to all these is, even in this age of new model communication, visit each other's offices, have face to face meetings at the actual place, have breakfast, lunch or dinner together to talk about personal stuff, become friends to do business. I haven't seen any better way of building a trusting business relationship where each party acts on best of intention other than this personal way.
I was reading tompeters.com, "Current Cool Friend Interview", and Lou Carbone is talking about how Ray Kroc understanding emotional needs of customers. Carbone is talking about marketing, but it applies for people in general. For most of us, most of time, "perception is reality". It is so about workplace design. It is so about how a company treats its employee.
Most common perception I run into lately is: The company don't care about me, because it doesn't want me hanging around at the office. It doesn't understand my need to feel that I belong someplace in physical sense.
As a matter of fact, most of the time, the company does care. But here it is: "perception is reality".
Maybe sour grapes. But an e-mail my friend sent to me allowed me to express exactly what I have been thinking about lately.
My friend sent me an e-mail with an article of a woman succeeding in growing a company with type of work that I specialize in. It was about the president of People Focus Consulting in Japan. My friend's message to me was: Inspiring?
It's inspiring because this is sort of icing on the cake of knowing what I want to do. I respect people who go after what they belived in. I admire Kuroda-san for going for what she wanted and making something wonderful: her company, satisfied clients. But the story was also inspiring in the way that Kuroda-san leads exactly the antithesis of the life I want to lead.
I definitely don't want to build the kind of business that would require me to spend 6 days a week just working. I've done enough of that for years and years, and know in my heart that I am determined not to waste away the next few precious years I have with my oldest son at home. He's already 17! For the past 9 years, I just wasn't there for him. I know in my heart, I want to spend more time with my younger boys. You know the saying. Nobody ever regrets not having spent more time working on their deathbed.
I am, however, setting my goal as creating a company that offers meaningful service to the society in general, where each person belonging to the company has full life, loving their jobs, taking pride in belonging to the company. The company will make a lot of money, and it will pay lots of tax to make social contribution, and on top of that,we will have regular volunteer events and make sizable donations to our chosen cause. Sabbatical will be encouraged, and more so if it was for global volunteer work.
Well, I just have to figure out what kind of business will allow me to do that! =)
Meanwhile, I keep doing what I do, enjoying the time with clients and partners, keep spending lots of time with my kids and family. But having a goal, I know I will get there. It might take me another 10 years since my youngest one is still 7. I believe in James Allen's words: Thoughts maketh a man.
Okay, I've got more than one favorite. This Tokyo Forum is hated by many, many Tokyo residents, not it's design thought. Tokyo residents had to pay for this thing because it was so costly, additional 10,000 yen per month (appx. US$90.00) tax to pay for it!! They've been paying for about the past 10 years or so. Don't know how many more years to go.
But I venture to say, I just looove this building complex. I get a special feeling everytime I walk through the place, which is average of maybe twice a month. It's beautiful when it rains. It's beautiful in any season. The gentle light from the floor. Angles and curves of walls, windows, doors. Granite, steel, polypropelyne textured white. Can't describe it. Just awsome!
Any great architectural work is hated by people who are made to pay for them, I guess. Taj Mahal. Such is history. I doubt the Tokyo Forum will last as long as the Taj Mahal simply because in a middle of bustling, constantly changing city, and it's used rigorously by the people. However, I have a feeling I will enjoy the builing, at least for the rest of my life.