Regardless of how much time you spend visiting LinkedIn, you’ll notice that your feed is interspersed with various inspirational quotes by business and thought leaders. From Bill Clinton to Steve Jobs to Sheryl Sandberg, the quotes are often excellent distillations of their life work, and meant to provide the nudge we all need to continue striving toward our own dreams. The comments from readers are often positive as well, proving the worth and general acceptance of the quotes.
The resulting motivation is great, but then according to 2013 Gallup research, why are as many as 70% of workers feeling unfulfilled or like they haven’t achieved what they set out to do professionally?
The Situational Formula
In practicality, it is irresponsible to think of the aforementioned quoted leaders and their accomplishments in a vacuum. Leadership is as much about having a good strategy at the right time as it is about having the right skills and experience. That ideal environment is much akin to a Situational Formula, and understanding the formula is the real secret to professional fulfillment.
For example, let’s look at Ron Johnson, the retail and customer experience guru. While at Apple, he led a revolution in the way consumers interact with products, and overhauled the entire shopping experience. Then he moved to J.C. Penney, and nearly destroyed the already tenuous relationship the retailer had with its customers. In theory, Johnson had the same general strategic vision in both situations, just executed in a different place and time. The results were wildly different.
And the reverse is true, too. Think of James Dyson, the iconic creator of effective bagless vacuum systems. Before the great success at his own company, Dyson had a dicey run over more than 10 near-bankrupt years trying to convince retailers and consumers that his bagless idea was a good one. He stuck with his instincts, and started pursuing alternate markets until he built enough consumer support to launch broadly. Once again: Same strategy, different time and place, wildly different results.
The New Conversation
Rather than focusing on the singular thoughts from the inspirational quotes posted on social media, we need to start a new conversation. The reality is that it takes more than just gusto to achieve our dreams. It is as much about having a good personal strategy as it is about finding the environment where you can be most effective. Or, for those who are a little more risk averse, about being able to be a driver of change within your current or future environment.
Think instead of the contributions you bring to the table, and how and in which situations those contributions can be best applied. What is your formula for success?
This idea can be extrapolated across those who are currently employed, those who are seeking jobs, and even those who are retired and looking for new adventures.
The required approach is to stay sharp, adaptable, and be a ready catalyst for disruptive innovation, regardless of your industry or field. The right ingredients for your formula — and your inevitable success — are out there.
Perhaps one of the largest challenges in working between countries is understanding and mastering the subtleties of communication when doing business.
For example, I need to talk with my American colleagues using a style that works with them, and then talk with my Japanese colleagues using a different, but equally effective style. If I use an American communication style in a Japanese business environment, it likely won’t be a productive use of time, and will leave many items open for interpretation. (Quite frankly, I could be speaking about using a German style in an Argentinian business meeting and the same situation would arise.) Extrapolate that theory across multiple geographies and it becomes clear that how you’re used to doing business in your home country is not how business gets done on a global scale.
If you’ve ever been in a multi-cultural meeting and it seems like everyone agrees with what’s being said, but then no action is taken afterwards, you know exactly what I mean.
One of the areas this really comes alive is when you see multi-lingual advertising or public service announcements. Here is one from the JR system, reminding everyone to be polite and respect the space of those around them.
The Japanese text is a lot softer than the English beneath. And the overall tone, including the graphic elements, is much more direct than you would expect in a public ad. Clearly the JR advertising board isn’t speaking to the Japanese population with this ad, but rather to everyone else.
If they used direct Japanese here, or soft English, the message would be lost.
So, naturally, that’s reason enough to make a trek to the summit! Here’s a short documentary about the journey from base to peak and the stunning visual reward at the top:
Check it out in HD for an even better viewing experience.
While I have written previously about the myriad food options in and around Tokyo, I don’t think I’ve captured well how integral food is to the culture here in Tokyo and across Japan.
Take, for example, the many, many mom-and-pop restaurants and small shops which cater to the nouveau riche and the salary men alike. Certain neighborhoods can have hundreds of these types of restaurants up and down the streets, and stacked on top of each other. Sometimes you need to start looking up in order to figure out where you need to be for a dinner reservation! And you will always find food as the focal point — if not the primary draw — at the many summer festivals across Japan.
Eating at a restaurant is a very common activity, especially for post-work socialization and for the ever-critical business meeting. More business can get done over a meal than in a conference room, and more friendships are built sharing a stick of yakitori than at a club.
But the thread of food winds even deeper than that.
Becoming a chef skilled in your particular cuisine can require many years of practice. A would-be sushi chef starts at a level 5 diploma and works for years up to level 1. For years. I’ve met restaurant owners in other countries who are barely out of high school, which puts the experience here in Tokyo in extreme contrast. Before ever serving a dish to restaurant patrons, a sous-chef must prove his skills through practice and review, living up to the standards for that particular eatery.
So, does the food actually taste better after all that hard work?
I’ve never had a bad meal in Tokyo, but then again I still have a lot of restaurants to try. From my experience, it’s less about how the food tastes on its own, and more about the full experience. A Japanese term, umami (うま味), really does describe that there is something extra when preparing food. There are the flavors as they are independently, and then the combined “n + alpha” flavor, which comes only if everything is well balanced.
And then there’s the presentation of the dishes. I can honestly say meals have never looked so good! That’s where the magic is, I believe. We eat with our eyes, and the chefs in Japan are skilled in making even small portions or unknown foods look amazing. After all, there must be a reason people immediately grab their cameras and start snapping photos of the food the second it appears on the table.