Japan 'Global Eyes'- Intercultural Business Insights (Part two)
For a western educated person like me, trust and privacy aren't so important. I prefer the freedom of having few secrets, to meet interesting diverse people by being super friendly, and to try out any kind of useful solution straight away - without worrying too much about whether the solution provider will be a long-term partner or not. Life is short, and it feels good to try new things and share experiences with new people. About a dozen people, including my wife, ex-wife, and all my staff and partners can see and edit my entire schedule online, covering all my activities from business appointments to personal tasks like 'buy toilet roll' and 'take out burnable rubbish' to 'buy rose' or 'arrange monthly date'.
My life would fall apart without the reminders of my digital diary. One Nikkei Woman interviewee called her 'techo' (paper diary / planner) "my brain". And my iPhone really feels to me like a helpful little robot guide - since I always get lost in my thoughts or a digital book and need constant digital reminders to stay on track. These days if I get on a train I always calculate the arrival time, and set an alarm to vibrate one minute earlier, even if its only two stops away. I haven't missed a train stop in a year, since I started that life hack. And digital is so much better than paper, in the sense that the data is both password protected AND backed up online, so I couldn't lose the diary contents if I tried. And I can carry years of data around with me, too.
My Japanese friend told me she likes a paper diary because you can read it in a wide, general way, like a newspaper, whereas on a digital one you can only do pin-point searches. This is true - although a full screen calendar on a PC screen synched with a mobile phone seems pretty informative. I wonder if the reasons are really strong enough for choosing analog over digital.
3. Custom Solutions for Customers
In Japan, just as there are hundreds of kinds of drinks in the convenience store for every consumer lifestyle segment, (and manufacturers keep changing flavors and packages to keep customer interest and demand high,) so there are hundreds of different kinds of diaries, with new variations appearing every year. There are huge variations in diary format, such as Monthly, Left-Sided-Vertical, 1-Page-Per-Day, Free Dates, and versions customised per purpose, such as to do tasks efficiently, get work life balance, achieve dreams, or 'find love' . In Japan, there is seemingly a diary format for every type of customer need. And like the word root itself, the word 'customer' here always seems to have the concept of 'custom' quality attached to it.
In Japan, with the strictest, most 'picky' customers in the world, people want the reassurance of 'over-spec' - as quality they can always rely on. In a similar way to their business card, a person's relationship with a paper diary that matches their life needs here has an almost spiritual element. People may try out several types of diary each year until they find just the right one, and like trusted partners, when they find the perfect match they will stick faithfully together for years. This seems similar to the 'keiretsu' (corporate alliance) system, with customers pairing with vendors for decades because they are known and trusted. In contrast, foreign capital companies often seem to start every year by sending out an RFP (request for proposals) on their key business areas to new vendors, and changing their ad agency to 'freshen things up' every few years can even be company policy for marketers.
Magazines in Japan are full of specialist advice about making your choice of diary as a kind of lifestyle help, too. People trust expert advisors in Japan, thanks to their Confucian system of learning answers from teachers in school, and from 'sempai' (seniors) or mentors in companies, rather than putting more weight on learning by themselves from personal trial and error, as many Westerners do. To preserve relationships, mistakes are to be avoided where Japanese customers and stakeholders are concerned. And wrong choices should be avoided when free time can be so rare and precious. No wonder that there is a diary type for every kind of job and lifestyle choice in Japan - and a highly detailed 'best practice' process to learn from an expert in that field - including which pen to use, and exactly where to write what in the diary.
Choosing a pocket diary is also a lot to do with 'turning a new leaf' (itself a diary-related phrase) to start afresh in the next year. New Year's resolutions are popular in the West, but 2013 research showed in the USA that only 8% are achieved. I make such resolutions every year on an electronic file but these seem to disappear deep into the hard disk somewhere, and by November now I thankfully have no memory at all of what I wrote back in January. (This helps me avoid disappointing myself: the resolutions were probably to get lots of sales and prioritize my kids and wife. Oh, well, there is still a month left to catch up:-) On the other hand, your pocket diary is always showing your new years resolutions when you turn to that first page, if you are brave enough to write them in such a visible place.
For Japanese, like visiting Meiji Jingu shrine or climbing Fuji to see the new dawn in freezing temperatures, getting a new diary is a ritual of starting a new year, but I have never heard any Japanese share their new year's resolutions. Westerners advise telling everyone your goals (usually losing weight, saving money, and being thoughtful to family - according to that 2013 research) by writing them on your wall, and in your blog post. In contrast, Japanese seem to want to keep their dreams more private. Since, besides being a consultant and intercultural trainer, I am an executive coach, I often get chances to ask Japanese what their dreams and life goals are, and few can easily tell me. Most say they never think about it.
This made me realize what I love most about living in Japan. In England we think about ourselves first, and then if we have time and energy to spare, we think about others. But Japan is the opposite. In Japan, first we think about others, and then only if we have time and energy to spare, we think about ourselves. In this busy modern world where every page in our scheduler is always full , it means that British can end up rather self-centered, and Japanese can end up never thinking about their dream: getting their enjoyment instead from providing 'omote nashi' (thoughtful hospitality) to others. But it is good to have balance: only if you have a detailed goal, your dream can come true.
Perhaps then it is good to see diary experts holding out the offer of finding work life balance, and achieving fulfilling goals. I hope you can too!
GLOBAL BUSINESS LIFEHACKS - FOR POCKET DIARY USERS
1. Names are power! Write names in your schedule as you meet people - before you forget them. (They may not have cards, so ask twice, and secretly jot it down at the first chance) Compared to Japanese, which allows sentences with no subject, and using titles instead of names, we seem to say people's names up to five times more in English. It can help you appear friendly, clear and polite.
2. Add global safety time! Accept that foreigners may deliver late, and tell them earlier completion dates, with suitably large penalties and rewards to enforce timeliness. (Make sure penalties are much higher than overtime costs in your supplier's country, too, as suppliers may just take the cheaper path!)
3. Sharing is caring! Share your new year's resolutions to give them more power. Make goals clear and realistic, with due dates. And keep them in view for months until they safely become ingrained as a habit.
4. Go digital! Use a wiki to create online manuals - encouraging everyone to contribute and update them. And share calendars and task lists too - via easy-to-use, free or paid cloud solutions, such as Evernote, Wunderlist or Basecamp.
5. Be you! Get the diary type that suits you. Check it's big enough for your appointments and allows easy note-taking of key ideas only (Mostly avoid writing so you can maintain eye contact with your counterpart - and write key tasks only). If you can't give up paper then at least keep photos of your diary pages forever using a smartphone app.