Category Archives: Adaptation

試練

暫く会社を辞めるとも考えていた。台湾での生活が好きだけど、客に無責任のが多い。仕様書読まなかったり、規格書を読まなかったり、無理なスケジュールを組んだり、問題の定義が曖昧だったりする。日本でも要求が高いけど、少なくてもこれらの基本を守っている。台湾の客だったら、この基本を守らないことによるプレッシャーをそのままこっちに投げてくる。疲れた。

それで先週の水曜日、会社を辞めるより、無責任の要求の対応を辞めればよいだろうと思った。客が仕様書を読まなかったら仕様書をよめるようにといったり、無理なスケジュールを組まれたらそのスケジュールは無理で失敗したら責任を取れませんといったり、問題定義が分からなかったら単純に意味不明だからこちらで問題を再現できるように説明してくださいといったり、集中しないと行けないときに携帯の鳴りを切って集中すると決心した。数時間回答ほどの大至急さが日々にあるのが阿呆。無責任の問い合わせに対して、責任を返す。先ずは基本を守られせる。

と決心したら、翌日に試された。

そう決心するのは理に適うと思われるが、以前の上司はお客さんに押し返したりするのが行けないと言う考えかただ。お客様が神様で、応用技師は客のすべての要求を無理でも対応しなければ行けない。その同じ上司が50代で若いけれども、階段を上るときに息切れもするほど、長年無理に仕事をして心肺機関を荒らした。その仕事のやり方を私にも求めていた。という背景である。

その試練とは、ある客の回路配線をレビューするときになった。配線レビューは集中が途切れたら難しいので、携帯の鳴りを切って冷静で楽に集中する空間を作った。そして、新入社員に研修をするときになった、一緒にラボに入って指導をした。六時になって着信を確認んすると11過ぎに元の上司から引き継いだばかりの客がメールをして、返事をもらえなかったら、私に電話をして、私が出なかったら、元上司に電話して、営業に電話をして、元上司が私にメールで督促を入れて、返事がなかったので、そのメールに今の上司と営業を加えて「今の状況を理解してもらう為に」と書いて、送った。

嫌だ。

質問の内容を読むと、客が仕様書も規格書を読んでいないのが分かる。しかもこの質問はスケジュールに影響があり、大至急に答えをくださいと求めている。

私には質問の答えは分かったが、すぐに答えるより「弊社の製品にそういう使い方をサポートしていますが、詳しくまとめるには少し時間をください。尚、回答時間にご理解ください。こちらのすべてのお客様も至急な問題があります」と返した。

元上司の送ったメールに「昨日に決めた仕事で忙しかった。中に回路配線の稟議を含む。それも大至急だった。そういう仕事に集中しなければ行けない。いまからこの件を見ます」と全員返信した。

気が済んだ。

営業的に、そういう仕様書も読まない無責任の客を落としてもいい。よりいいお客さんに時間を投資できるようになるだけではなく競合相手がその客を拾ったら、今度は競争相手の効率が落ちる。却っていい。

心理的に、お客さんに仕様書も読めないという無理なスケジュールを組まないように教育するには、すぐに返事をしないのが客にいい薬だ。

健康的に、専念時間が必要としている仕事に割り込みが入るとストレスになり、効率が落ちたり、仕事する時間が長くなる。そういうのを全部受けた私の上司の心肺期間が荒れている。それを代理店に押し付けて、ある代理店の応用技師は今も薬を飲んでいる。

無責任の人に責任を取らせるには、その責任を受けなくていいから。

まだ元上司に話す機会がないが、現役の上司にこの事件に付いて聞いた。

「やり方は賛成している。君が奴隷ではない。すぐに答えお客さんに返せないときがある。そして答えがないときにこの前みたいに『これから答えはおまとめします』と返して、待たせてもいいと思う。けどこの前は力が入りすぎていない?自分の行為を長く正当かするより、さっぱりと『ラボにいたので返事が遅れました』と説明すればいい済む。それに、あの後の全員返信も要らなかった。何が起きているのが俺に見えるからさ。元の上司が攻撃しようとしているけど、俺はその仕事のやり方に賛成している」との言葉をくれた。

簡単な事だけど、これでうちの部署に仕事の仕方の革命が起きる。

決心に報われて、この関は通っている。

 

これは私の怒りじゃない

長年、東京バイリンガルトーストマスターズクラブにお世話になった。これは人前で話すことを練習するクラブで、例会の構成で英語と日本語の部で各部でスピーチ2つ、論評2つ、即興スピーチ3つができる。

クラブで、成田空港のある航空会社のグラウンドスタッフの女性が会員だった。ある例会でこう話した。仕事でチェックインの手続きを済ませようとする人が怒って叱ってきた。やっぱりしかられたことの不公平を感じ、攻撃されたと感じ、気持ちも上がってきたが、ふと思ったら、自分の中で「これは私の怒りじゃない」という声が聞こえた。

そこで、平静に対応することができた。焦らずに対応できたら、その人が去って、列に並んだ次の人が来た。

気づいたのは、相手の怒りは所有しなければ良い。そのいからを受けなくて流せば良い。

これを思い出したのはこの頃、カフェで友達がその姉貴の結婚した旦那がいかなる悪いやつだと語っていた。なるほど悪い奴、けれども実はその旦那がもう亡くなっている。「もう良いだろう」と私が言った。「相手はもう死んでいるし。ちょっと残念な人だと思えばいい。」
友達が笑った。「私は機嫌がいい人だと思うけど、機嫌如何にいいとしても、どうしても許せないことでびっくりして怒ってしまうね。」そしてその怒りも去って、次の話題に移った。

昨日の夜に歩いたら、自転車で歩道に乗って速度を出していた女が速度を落とさずに向かって来た。歩道が狭くなるところだったから、そこで自転車が通るのを待った。あの乗り方のままでは事故が起こらない方が不思議。けどめ、ここでは事故が起こらなかった。いつか事故が起こったら、事故で教わるが、今は私に教える責任がないと断言して、怒らなかった。

Clarity

With a co-worker, he was explaining theory. I wanted to know about application. I had been trying to ask a question, initiating with body language and verbal grunts. “Does that mean…” “um…” “hey…” “well…” with increased frustration, until I said to him firmly. “I have a question – do you want to hear it?” And he said “No.”

“You don’t want to hear my question.” I said, stating it more than asking it.
“No.” He shook his head.
And this was a bit of a relief. He had helped me understand the theory, which I had not done on my own, but he was not interested in understanding its application. I’ll take what I can get, I reasoned, and find the rest somewhere else.

I recalled Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huit Clos” in which the characters involved make each other miserable because of their personalities. Compromise is not possible because they cannot set their self-image aside. I recalled James Nalepka’s “Capsized,” where three crew a boat that capsizes in a storm, and they drift, surviving on fishing, gathering rain, and food stores until they hit land again. Their personalities bump against each other because there is no way off of the boat, but they are united by their common goal.

The latter is how I like to think of my company – united by a common goal.

The boat has been weathering a storm recently, but letting go of the urge to protect myself has enabled me to see more clearly.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting. My boss called in. We hit a rough spot. My boss panicked, jumped in, and took control of the meeting. A few days later, my boss told me that I was being taken off the customer. I was upset, but agreed. We made plans to transfer the customer to my boss, and I offered to remain as backup help, internally working with our engineers to get answers. I viewed it as nothing personal – just a judgement of my ability to culturally handle this customer. The next day I was reinstated to the account. I now have a co-worker (not my boss) playing the role of cultural intermediary. He’s a top gun, switching in and out of dialect and talking the exact style with the exact phrasing that the customer wants to hear. We can say exactly the same thing in terms of content and get two very different reactions from the customer. They love him, which is fine. All I have to do is get him what he needs to answer questions.

I have been working overtime to get those answers from our engineers. They have been working overtime, too. Everyone is under pressure due to the product launch, but I handle it by being unattached to the outcome at this customer. Maybe we win, maybe we lose – I’ll give it my best shot.

That’s what Japanese warriors would tell themselves. They would train for life and death encounters, try to avoid conflict if at all possible, until for reasons beyond their control – shifts in balance of power of the land that led to war – they had to face off with an opponent who had also trained similarly. They would train to face this with equanimity. Maybe he’d lose, maybe he’d live, but he’d give it his best shot.

Giving it one’s best shot is all that matters. Accepting where you are. For example, not being ashamed of your current capabilities. I have a friend getting married in Japan to an accomplished martial artist. She practices, too, but has not yet attained a high level of training. To celebrate the occasion, their teachers will be present. With teachers and students all counted, there will be some seven black-belt Aikido practitioners, four of which are 4th-degree black belt or higher, and there will be a martial arts demonstration as part of the festivities. We were talking about this, and finding this really funny – “It will be less a reception than… ‘Sensei presents – team Aikido!'” My friend has asked me to be the “uke” – the “follow” – so to speak for her fiancé as he performs. Why not you? I asked. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough – and wants someone more skilled and better matched to her fiancé’s level. I told her that that was the wrong reason – that we are the sum of our training, and that for the amount she has trained, she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would do it to help her celebrate, but not because I have trained more. This leads me to another thought – why we do something does not have to be for the same reason that someone believes we should do it. The action is the same, but the narrative that we assign to it can be different. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

Accepting where you are includes being in the present moment. Fear or striving both bring us out of the present moment. Anything that takes us out of the now leads to poorer results. Dancing makes this very clear. If I am dancing, and trying to play it safe, it’s boring. If I am trying to impress, I’m forcing it, which leads to loss of harmony.

The ego is the source of the should-bes and might-have-beens that cloud our judgement and separate us from the reality at hand. Strength is not in the rocks that can stand against the river. It is the river itself – water that flows, finding the easiest way moment by moment, and in time, wearing down the rock. This is a prayer that we might be less like the rock, and more like the river. At moments of conflict, or more frequently, let us let go of the ego which projects us where we think we should be. Let us see ourselves and others where we are. Only then, relaxed and with power, can we give it our best shot.

Kreativverlust der Identität

Ich lese noch einmal wieder die Jason Bourne Spionageromane, von Robert Ludlum, in denen ein Mann sein Gedächtnis verloren hat, der trotzdem hat alle die Geschicklichkeite eines Geheimagents. Ein zentrales Thema ist die Natur seiner Identität. Es gibt eine Identität als Attentäter, die er geschaffen hat, und auch als Geheimagent, die er war, der Schöpfer der Identität des Attentäters. Die zwei Identitäten entstehen sich allmälich, während er seine Vergangenheit untersucht, und überleben versucht, angesichts derer die ihn tod wollen. Bei der Amnesia und seelische Belastung gibt es kaum eine Linie zwischen den ursprünglichen und erstellten Egos. Um zu überleben, mußte er die Identität, die er geschaffen hatte, übernehmen, und sonst noch neue Rolle spielen.

Ich weiß schon daß es Bereiche gibt, in deren ich kämpfe, weil meine Gewohnheiten und Reaktionen sind im Gegensatz zu der Kultur der Taiwan. Diese Bereiche umfassen Strategien, die ich in meinem vorherigen Leben in Japan und den Vereinigten Staaten gerlernt habe. Viele Strategien laufen aber nicht hier. In Taiwan unterscheiden sich die Arbeitsweise. Zum Beispiel denkt man nicht besser, weniger, sicherer, klassischer, sondern billiger, mehr, schneller, neuer. Was früher für mich um etwas zu erreichen genug war, ist hier nicht mehr genug. Was früher jedoch notwendig war, ist hier nicht mehr notwendig. Hier zählt man Aufmerksamkeit auf andere Dinge. Ich muß nicht nur einfach eine neue Arbeitsweise lernen, sondern eine ganz neue Reihe von emotionalen Reaktionen verinnerlichen, neue Instinkte entwickeln. Ich muß eine neue Indentität übernehmen.

Deshalb habe ich wohl von unterbewußte Wissen vorige Woche die Bourne Spionageromane wieder aufgenommen. Beim Kreativverlust und Lernen wird die Linie zwischen dem Selbst und dem erstellten Ego verwischen, sogar verschwinden. Es wird eine Zeit kommen, wenn der Selbst ist weg, aber der neue
Ego noch nicht klar. Darauf habe ich angst. Darüber hat Jason Bourne auch abgemüht.

Ich muß ein Chamäleon sein: er wird alles und ist immer noch selbst.

Hearing the Music

Once, I was dancing salsa with someone who suddenly stopped mid-song.

“Are you dancing with the rock-step on one or on two?”
“On one, generally, but I’m not too concerned about it.”
We danced for a little more, and then she stopped again, and said “One.”

Generally, I dance with the rock-step on one because that’s where the clave falls, and not stepping there feels odd. However, certain moves or certain songs or phrases have a strong syncopation, making stepping on two feel more natural. On-one and on-two are merely teaching constructs that don’t exist in real life. In real life, you follow the music and do what feels natural. The pedagogical construct is not the reality.

One of my friends introduced me to a Kizomba teacher whom I have fallen in love with (as a student) and unprompted from me she mentioned this very aspect of some schools – that some schools teach people to count in their heads, thinking about the form, but not really hearing the music.

One reason I love Aikido is that the objective reality of right or wrong can be imposed on someone when they are resisting flow. When they are not hearing the music, so to speak. Once at Honbu Dojo I was feeling contrary, and kept resisting my partner’s technique.
“You’re resisting.” he laughed.
“Do you want me not to resist?” I asked.
“No, it’s okay. It’ll just be more painful for you! Hahaha!”
What followed was one of the most satisfying practices I have ever had. His technique was either so clean that resistance was futile, or so adaptable that he utilized my resistance.

In Aikido people of all levels can practice together because we practice forms, but yet we can also achieve flow and response, much like dance.

Another time, I went to a new dojo and practiced with another black belt. The technique was nikyo from two-handed grab. My entry was imperfect, and left my partner an opening. My partner resisted, and although I could muscle through, I decided not to. Then, my partner made a smug “hah!” sound. If she had been a white belt, I would have left it at that.

But she was a black belt.

I reversed the force that I had been applying to do the nikyo lock, blended into the direction of her resistance, executing a kotaegaeshi throw. This happened in an instant. No sooner had she laughed than she was falling, and no sooner had she made a face of terror mid-fall that and she was on her back looking up. Her face turned from terror, to confusion, to anger.

We went again. I was still trying to see just how little force I can use. Because my entry was still imperfect, she was again able to resist the nikyo. I blended into kotegaeshi again, but she anticipated this. I reverted back into a nikyo lock and pinned her to the ground. All of this without force, but with speed. Faster, in fact, because I was using her own resistance.

We went again. Same nikyo, to kotegaeshi, to nikyo as before, only this time she expected the return to nikyo, and resisted. I blended with her force again and transitioned to kokyunage. Again, she was on her back.

We stood and faced each other again. She blinked in rapid succession. Her eyes are wild, looking at the ground, at my left shoulder, my right shoulder, at the ground, my hands. I took a step back and sat seiza to wait for her to calm down.

It’s not that I don’t like advice. It’s that I hate nitpicking about forms. Nitpicking that stops action and flow. The pedagogical construct is not the reality.

Once I took Japanese in college, and skipped two semesters after studying intensely over spring break. My Japanese teacher told me I should be more humble and that I was still making mistakes. She advised against skipping two semesters. I decided to skip anyway, then skipped another four semesters when I got back to school after half a year of study in Japan, then got a sales job in Japan. My range of expression and mobility would have been severely constrained if I had preoccupied with grammar mistakes.

What matters is whether you’re stepping or dancing.

The Third Arrow

The Japanese government messed up. Low interest rates and high currency were not a problem. Low interest rates are a consequence of high competition for capital. After all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, what’s left is the opportunities that offer lower rates of return. Low rates are a natural occurrence in a developed market. Even negative rates are not that unusual – the Swiss just issued their first negative-rate government bond. The Euro is so volatile that people are willing to pay the Swiss to keep their money safe. The same status had formerly been accorded to the yen as a reserve currency. Higher inflation rates in Asian economies lead people and governments to be willing to pay in the form of negative interest rates to have their money safe.

Reducing the value of the yen by 50% puts money on the balance sheets of exporters and big companies that already have high overseas sales, but hinders companies from making overseas investments. The economy previously grew through exporting, and the Japanese government is trying to promote growth by promoting exports. This is an inefficient way of promoting export, at that, since all production inputs that must be imported end up costing more. Yet, by simply doing nothing, the high yen would have encouraged foreign investment, as foreign assets looked cheap and banks and companies sought a higher rate of return.

Companies in Japan were dependent on domestic consumption, failed to generate enough demand for products overseas, and failed to invest in production capacity overseas. Companies like HGST, Sony, or Toyota that invested in overseas sales and production capacity continued to do well through the period of high yen and low interest rates. Companies like NTT, dependent on a declining domestic market, have not done well. The effect of inflating the currency has been to benefit those companies who were already doing well, while at the same time to discourage foreign investment by making foreign assets more expensive.

Politically, as China is expanding its soft power with its launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Japan is decreasing its ability to lend or invest abroad by devaluing its currency.

With domestic consumption saturated, no amount of domestic investment will create a larger rate of return. Japan has an excess of capital. It is squandering it by devaluing the currency. Stop. The government should not be concerned with trying to grow the domestic economy, which is already saturated. People already throw away expensive items like large screen TVs in order to make room for new ones. How many more TVs can they use? Instead of playing with numbers and destroying capital with QE, the government should be concerned with enabling the profitable employment of capital.

MNCs get higher return on capital by outsourcing production in developing economies and investing in production capacity there. Think Intel, Apple, Toyota. Allowing the yen to remain high would continue to encourage companies to invest overseas.

Domestically, the government could improve the way capital is employed.

  1. It should be made easier to fire people (companies are ever-hesitant to hire people because it’s hard to get rid of them).
  2. Bankruptcy law should be reformed so that entrepreneurs have true limited-liability. Wide experimentation necessarily leads to a few successes and many failures, as Silicon Valley can attest to.
  3. Retirement age should be raised in order to relieve strain on the pension system. It is currently 60.
  4. Labor practices should be reformed so that it is easier to be a parent, including making it easier to take paternity leave and making it easier for women to rejoin the work-force if they take time off to raise children.
  5. There is a shortage of daycare centers. Access to daycare should be improved by allowing the easier conversion of defunct elementary schools to publicly-subsidized daycare centers.
  6. The cost of raising a child should be reduced by making high-school free. Why spend billions in QE when the same billions can be spent to improve education?

It’s time to learn new tricks. What got Japan here was domestic consumption and domestic investment. Forget about the numbers. What’s important is to keep things interesting for young people. Otherwise, who’s going to have children? I met a college graduate recently who decided to take a job as a hotel concierge. That’s what it’s come to. The system is so locked, there is so little opportunity for experimentation and growth, there are so few positions in society open for people who are coming of age, that college graduates are deciding to take jobs as hotel concierges. The government must make structural reforms to remove obstacles toward the natural redeployment of capital, instead of caffeinating the economy to continue to run in the way of the past.

As for young people with a college education, I would say: leave and get experience elsewhere. A concierge job is fine, if it’s what you want to do, but it was definitely not what the guy I met was hoping for. Why fight in a little world with other college-educated people for a little job that is entirely confined to Shinjuku, doesn’t require a college education, and doesn’t teach you to be anything else? Leave. Is it better to be a concierge in Japan business development manager overseas? You get to choose: comfort or experience? Directly apply to the overseas branch and get some experience at a job that you actually want to do. There are so few people doing this sort of thing that you will actually face no competition.

And after you have gotten foreign language and cultural experience, the long-term demographic trend in Japan will still not have changed. The domestic market will still be shrinking. The excess of Japanese capital will still be looking for higher returns. Companies will be looking for linguistically and culturally competent people to be their face to the outside. You will have new ideas and ways of thinking that you would not have learned if you had stayed behind. It will be hard, but you will have a greater appreciation for what is good and bad about Japan after spending some time on the outside. You will be ready. There will be no competition.

MK5

先週の月曜のことだった。台湾の日本料理屋にいくと、自分の中の日本料理像に添わない食べ物が出てくるので、行かないようにしている。出たものを受け入れて食べればいいけど、期待に添わないことが郷愁を引き起こしてしまう。月曜日に六人の同僚と一緒にランチをしてある同僚が提案で行ってしまった。メニューにどんぶりものもラーメンもあった。同僚のアランさんは台湾の日本風ラーメンはどう思うと聞いた。私は正直に答えた。麺は茹ですぎて、汁は薄すぎる。アランが説明した。台湾では麺に芯が残っているとまだ生っぽいと考えられる。そしてスープは台湾の人が飲みたいので、薄くしている。だからそういう味になる。

私は麻婆豆腐丼を頼んだ。これなら中国にもあるから外れないだろうと思った。上司がお茶は?と聞いて。「甘くないもの。」と答えたが「全部のお茶に当分が入っている。」と上司が説明した。「なら、要らない。」と答えた。

六人でした。皆の食べ物が来たら、私のがこない。「こないね。」とケビンさんが言った。「聞いてくるね。」
「うん。」
別の同僚は「それは心配しなくていいだろう。」と言った。
ケビンが聞きにいって戻ってきた。「豆腐がだめになって、マーボー丼が作れないから、別のもの注文してと言っている。」
「なんか、切れる。」と私が言った。
アランさんが「何がいい?」
私はメニューを見て、全部美味しくなく見えた。
隣の秘書はさっきのラーメンの話を聞いてなかったから、「ラーメンは?」と進めた。
さらに切れた。
「いや、なんか、切れてお腹がすかなくなった。」
上司は、「それはいけない。午後に会議が続くから、何か食べないと力が持たない。」
私がウエーターの法を見て「済みません!」と呼んだ。少しもこちらに見なかった。
「ここはメニューで注文を書いて、カウンターに持って行くと言うやり方だおもうよ。」と上司が説明した。
なんで謝ってこないし、私が注文を持って行く必要があるのと思って、さらに切れた。
「他のお店に行く。」
隣の秘書さんが「もうここにいるから、ここに食べれば?」と聞いた。
それが何か諄く感じて、さらに切れた。
「いや、結構です。他で食べる。」と言って、立ち去った。台湾の紅油抄手(ラー油掛け餃子)の店に言って、一人で食べた。あそこは美味しくて、常連客だし、いいサービスだった。台湾の異国料理が最低だなと美味しく食べた。
なんで切れるのだろう。と思った。

事務所に戻った。上司が「食べた?」と聞いて。
「うん、食べた。紅油餃子。」
「あ、よかった。心配していた。」
「あの店はサービスが酷過ぎて、私が行く店としては失格です。」と説明した。
「改善する余地はあるけど、悪気はなかったよ。そこまで反応しなくてもよくない?」
そのときに凄く余所者だと感じた。説明しても相手に理解してもらえないね。
上司は「大丈夫?何か話したいことある?」
説明しているのに「悪気なかったよ」などの事を言われて、また切れた。これは話し手もしょうがないねと思った。「いや。何も相談する事がない。」
「本当に?大丈夫な顔色には見えないけど。」これは諄く感じて、更に切れた。
「大丈夫。なんか、最近切れやすくなっているだけだ。ちょっとメールしてくるので、会議までに戻ってくる。」

切れるのは夏バテかな。もっと人を許さなければならない。台湾を日本の尺度で計ってもしょうがない。自分が苦しくなるだけ。台湾は台湾の気持ちで迎えなければならない。