Category Archives: Work

Entering the Fray

Monday morning, I am poised on the cusp of entering the fray. I imagine that my ancestors would have felt something similar in anticipation of the hunt. What will it bring?

We are at war with perceptions: customers that can never be satisfied, advertisers that seek to disrupt our tranquility to take away our money, Pokemon fantasies that hook into ancient warrior instincts to vy for our attention. The latter are as intrusive or meaningless as pornography, a super normal stimulus that hijacks our instincts. Intrusive when it is a picture of a beautiful woman, meaningless when you see it as a piece of paper.

We are seeking the completion and fulfillment of desire. Breathe and feel safe. Modern battles are waged in a largely abstracted environment, along battlefields that we can largely select. 

Once, I was enamoured of retirement, decided to try it for a year, and quit my job. I soon got so bored that I started training martial arts every day, something that I reveled in, but had not planned. Did I really believe that I could retire from the din of the world?

A bone without stress grow porous and brittle. An unworked muscle withers. An unused bicycle goes to rust.

So then I found myself on the roofs and sides of buildings in Tokyo, erecting and dismantling scaffolding, learning to be in harmony with danger – danger that sharpens the senses. Life happens fast. Pay attention. “Yang!” I would hear, and look to catch a bracket thrown my way. Every afternoon at three the supervisor would yell 「一服!」 (breather!) which we would transmit by shouting to the next man along the wall, and more than once from where I stood, I breathed and looked out over rooftops, and thought – “I am building this city,” before climbing down to have a coffee.

What is the purpose of a break than to become stronger?

A mentor once taught me a story: a young man walked up the mountain to seek out an ascetic. He found the old man carrying firewood on his back. 

The young man asked:”Teacher, please tell me about enlightenment.” 

The ascetic placed the bundle of firewood down, stood straight, and stretched. “This,” he said, “is enlightenment.”

Excited, the young man asked. “What comes next?”

Whereupon, the ascetic took up the bundle of firewood again, and continued on his way.

My mentor’s point was to teach me to ask “What comes next?” so as to keep from becoming fixated on a goal.

I have been looking for the source of this story on the internet, but cannot find it. Instead, there is a similar attested teaching of Zen that the path to enlightenment is「運水搬柴」, literally “to carry water and bring firewood,” which in ancient times were the main chores of the day, which is to say that the path to enlightenment is doing ordinary things.

There are meditations that take us out of the world, and there are meditations that take us into the world, and the goal of becoming human is to be able to wake up not just in the dojo, the dance floor, or the yoga studio, but in the course of the mundane – while we are engaged in our Work.

What comes next after enlightenment? Picking up the firewood again. After the weekend? Going back to Work. After a sabbatical year? Going back to Work. Our souls may stretch to a higher plane, but we are physical beings, and after a time we find ourselves standing where we are, finding the laundry must be done, the furniture dusted, the floor swept.

My biggest spiritual challenge now is to learn better to harmonize with difficulty. I recall several times when I have been in a meeting where someone was being rude, and saw another respond with firmly with respect, and after some back and forth, the rude person volunteered help. The strong harmonizer is my model. Life would be less interesting without rude people.
Harmonizing, not fighting, is the right feeling. Difficulty and danger are ingredients, not waste products. The danger, adrenaline, and exertion of being on the scaffolding let me sleep better, let me better taste my food, and gave me morning wood like I hadn’t hadron with high school. While my white-collar friends paid for gym memberships and cross-fit classes to resurrect atrophied muscle and correct bad posture, buying fitness watches to feel more motivated to walk or climb stairs, I was getting paid to do full body resistance and coordination training, more intense than martial arts boot camps  I have attended, and more spirited in team work. My enthusiasm at the time is well-captured in this Craigslist posting. The posting got us a new teammate for a few weeks, of whom the team leader said 「あいつは日本語が下手過ぎて、面白かった。」 “that guy’s Japanese sucked so bad, it was hilarious” – again, smiling and harmonizing with danger. Laughing, crying, and looking out for each other.

By and by, after a year and a half away, I returned to desk work, but I am nostalgic for scaffolding. In the three and a half years since, I have lost muscle, and my posture is not as good. Can I have both an exercised mind and exercised body?
I began this post this morning on a bus to work. I am ending it this evening over a beer at home. One of my teachers touched off this train of thought because she just left for a month-long trip away from Taiwan to reconnect with people and to reflect, so I dedicate this to her.

Enlightenment is setting down our burden. What comes next is also enlightenment. Can I hold on to this clarity? Probably not. But next time, when faced with a difficult situation or person, maybe I can smile a little inside, and say “That’s interesting. What comes next?”

走るのは

暫定退職した永遠に長い夏の間、目黒区立屋外プールでのアナウンスが思い浮かぶ。丁寧にはっきりと男の声が「危ないですから、プールて走らないでください。走るのは夢にかけて。」

あの夏のこの頃だったんだな。

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。

 

欲はあってもいい

合気道の先輩は「欲はあってもいいよ。」
私は眉毛をあげた。
続いて、先輩が「新しいものができるから。」
「と言いますと?」
「例えば、冬にイチゴがなかったよね?イチゴがなくて、これは儲かるんだろうと思って誰かが温室を作って、石油かガスを燃やして、イチゴを育てる。そうすると冬にイチゴができる。前はなかったのに、今はある。新しいものができた。」
「なるほど。」と私は言った。
「けども前は冬に人と土が休んでもよかったのに、今は働いている。そして他の人があの人が儲かっているのを見て、同じ事をする。で、みんな値段を安くして、儲からなくなる。しかも化石燃料を燃やして二酸化炭素を放出して、土、人、地球が疲れる。どこかでストップを掛けなければならないけど、欲はあってもいい。」

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.

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.

安利

今天有人請我去參加登陽明山去摘海芋的旅行。都是安利的人或他們的朋友。
我不是安利的代理商,也沒有想當。參加這些活動只是想同人交流,這次也可以看個未去過的地方。其實很多對話會轉向介紹安利的產品怎樣使人生活過得更好。
此樣時我都會把話題轉向別個方向。

第二次和他們見面時,是一個聚餐。
餐後,有人準備濾水器。一面說台北水中氯超標等等,一面向水裏加食物色彩,再加氯,色彩淡了所以再加更多色彩,再加墨水,然後開綠水器出水自己飲一口。大家感嘆。再為大家各個人準備一杯水喝。那時是吃完一餐大家都未飲東西。我也口渴。但是我不想喝那個水。
我說「我跟你講一個故事啊。有一次我有一個防水手表。防水到10米。我把它放在一個碗裏的水看看。結果呢,有水跑進去的誒!我跟我爸爸說。他就跟我講:你就不用去試它吧!」
大家都笑,而且沒人喝。

又有人說感冒時吃安利的營養補助品很快就好。我就說,嗯我也不喜歡感冒時看醫生,自己喝茶多睡點很怏就好了。
後來覺得那樣有點在欺負人。破壞他們的夢想。其實這些人和我同年代,愛玩,吃,工作努力,有夢想。有一個二十幾歲的在作兩個工作,回家也會健身。將來要開自己的店。他有向夢想闖的勢力。所以我和他們在一起可以得到精神。
但有一個人較持續要賣我東西,而開始企圖向我引起恐懼或羞恥的感情。那我也玩玩。

吃完午飯後,他說「你有沒有想過你跟你的長輩學,想要超越他們的感情,在你下面的人也一樣。有沒有想過哪時候你被超越而公司不需要你,要怎樣保護自己?」他要提安利的賺錢的可能性。
我答「我覺得這種東西不必想的」桌子還有一人,他笑了笑。「像電視台一樣。想法可換來換去。我幫幫長輩,他幫幫我。我幫幫後代,他幫幫我。大家都幸福了。」
「如果大家跟你一樣想法就好了。」
「其實像電視台,這些東西都在。只是你可以選要看哪一台。」
他去別個地方聊天。

還有一次我和一個代理商和個一般參與人在講話。他差入,和我地在講話的安利代理商要口香噴霧。一般參與人問那是什麼?
「是業務不可缺的。要見客顧之前啊,剛吃大蒜啊,要去見美女啊,開會想要打瞌睡啊。」
我說「哦,日本人也喜口袋裏帶一盒留蘭香糖。我也是,要打瞌睡的時候真的有效。」
非代理商的問我「是什麼品牌呢?」我跟他講。
差入的人看了看我。「我跟你們講個笑話。歐巴馬和普津在談話。普津說我今天要做兩件事。一個是在車臣殺十萬人。」
我問「車臣是什麼?」
「在東歐的地方。」
「哦, Chechnya。你不是意思是烏哥蘭?」
「之類的地方。」
我心裏想正打戰的不是車臣,是烏哥蘭。但也繼續聽笑話吧。「好。」
「那歐巴馬問第二件事是什麼。普津回答我要擉破一個氣球。」
我以為我聽錯了。「你說氣球嗎?」
「是,歐巴馬也這麼問。普津就向他的書記說:你看,大家都不顧那10萬個人。」
我等了等。他繼續解譯。
「人們都很容易看不到重點。你們兩個現在對安利也一樣。有很多東西你們不了解,但是你們一直看那些不了解的東西,看不到重點。」
些時我卻覺得很有趣。先是差入我們的對話以推銷,再是搞錯地理又說個無聊的笑話,再是要說我們是看不到重點。我們本來是四個人形成四方形在站著講話。在我對面那角是無聊人,我右邊是一位代理商,左邊是一般參與人。一般參與人稍為轉了身体把肩朝著無聊人。我右邊的代理顯出尷尬的臉。無聊人繼續。
「那樣就像去上教堂學英語。」
一般人斜眼看他。「不憧。」
「教堂也可以學英語嘛。」
「我不知道,沒上過教堂。」
我說「我沒上過教堂學英語,但是我有上過教堂學日語。」
一般人問「學日語啞?」
「嗯,在日本。我也那樣認識了一些好人。」
那個人就說不下去了。
我也轉身正面朝正面和那一般人聊一些工作上的事,再和他要聯絡方式。不久,解撒的時間也到了。

幾日後將有學煮油飯的聚餐。向來大家說是當朋友,不要買也沒關係,我也想學煮油飯,只是顯得有人開始對我不耐煩了。