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Creative Career Path

Enough Excuses2010.06.23

    When the going gets tough, the people make excuses? That is not the way it is supposed to be, nor is it the way it used to be in Japan.


    Japanese culture was and still is heavily influenced by the values of Neo-Confucianism, particularly the emphasis on the unity of knowledge and action, which appealed to the Samurai, and became the official code of learning in the Edo Period (1603-1868).


    The leading figure in the Neo-Confucian school of thought was Zhu Xi , a Song Dynasty (960-1279) Confucian Scholar, who synthesized many Confucian concepts with Taoism and Buddhism.


    Zhu Xi said, “Knowledge and action require each other...but with respect to importance, action is more important.” This school of thought was to have a formative influence on Japanese thought throughout the Edo Period and beyond.


    It was the underlying philosophy supporting Bushido, or the Code of the Samurai Warrior, first codified by Yamaga Soko (1622-1685). Many of the lower ranking Samurai at the end of the Edo Period carried it forward into economics and politics in the years that followed.


    It spawned many of the values of Edo Shigusa (Edo behavior), with terms like soku jikk (take immediate action), and hai wa ichido dake (act without making excuses).


    In the martial arts, ability to perform is valued over ability to explain. Making excuses was once considered a sign of weakness and shame. But something has changed over time.

    In speaking with foreign executives who have experienced working in other East Asian countries, I frequently hear that Japanese staff are quicker to make excuses and slower to take action than the staff that they had in other countries.


    There could be many reasons for this perception, including the fact that English is not widely spoken in Japan compared to other Asian countries. In addition, Japan has traditionally been a culture of consensus, where it is hard to get things done without nemawashi (“root-binding”), or getting prior consensus behind the scenes.


    Nevertheless, the global economy favors companies and countries which can make decisions quickly and respond to rapidly changing circumstances.

    What is of real concern is not so much cultural differences in the style of making decisions, but rather the root psychology of excuse making.


    People make excuses for a number of reasons: to protect their image, to avoid risk, to shift the blame, or to justify inaction. It is a mentality of avoidance.


    Moreover, in a culture where the nail that sticks up gets hammered down (deru kui wa utareru), that is all the more reason to avoid sticking your neck out. The question is, does it have to be this way? While Japanese culture particularly frowns on maverick behavior, it also celebrates courageous action and concerted team effort.


    While Neo-Confucian values may seem a mismatch for modern Japanese society, it might be worth having a second look to understand it better. After all, it was Confucius that said, Look to the old to learn something new. After all, a person who generates new ideas and acts upon them is hardly a relic of the past. Respecting the ability to perform over the ability to explain could be more like a breath of fresh air in an age of excuses.


    This is something best learned by doing, rather than discussing. It is a habit formed by discipline and experience, rather than something learned from a lecture. In the martial arts and traditional Zen arts of Japan, this is described as learning with your body (taitoku). When you master something, it becomes a part of you, literally attached to your body (mi ni tsuku).


    In such an environment, the person who makes excuses or raises frivolous objections is known as a know-it-all, a quibbler, an excuse maker (rikutsuppoi), and this word is spoken in definite disapproval.

    Opportunities happen where the action is, on the playing field. So what happens to the person that avoids action and hides behind excuses? Not to worry. There are plenty of seats available in the spectator stands.


    William Reed





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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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