The amazing race: winning the technorivalry with Japan. (book reviews) William H. Davidson.
The Amazing Race by William H. Davidson. Willliam H. Davidson is another Harvard Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Virginia. His book should be of most interest to the readers of Creative Computing since he discusses the Japan vs. U.S. race from a technological standpoint. His book, The Amazing Race, (could this be a pun?) was published in 1984 by John Wiley & Sons. It is short (240 pages) and quickly read. He presents the facts in rapid fire fashion and draws logical conclusions avoiding blame and speculation.
To be fair, Davidson's book was written several years after the big Japan-is-going-to-win scare promulgated in part by te first two books in this review. The Amazing Race concentrates on recent computer hardware and software development of both countries. He explains that the U.S. is trying to stay in the number one position in both the standard of living race and the arms race. Our efforts are split by competition from Japan (little military) and USSR (low standard of living).
All three books recount the steady, calculated buildup of the mighty Japanese economic engine. The Japanese government carefully studied successful industrial governments and took the best of all they surveyed to mold their own governments. Similarly, Japanese businessmen looked to the United States for help in improving their productivity. They so successfully copied our methods that when American businessmen look to Japan as a model for improvement, they often see old-fashion American methods. In fact, this notion of a mirror is reflected in the titles of the first chapters--The Japanese Mirror and A Mirror for America--of two of the books.
It is not surprising that some of the more successful U.S. companies are going to Japan and copying some of the corporate values. One of the first to do this was IBM. In 1939 Thomas Watson Sr. travelled to Japan and met with the great Konosuke Matsushita. He brought back with him many of the management techniques Matsushista was using to build his billion dollar trading company.
More recently, Steven Jobs of Apple Computer visited Japan and used many of the automated factory ideas he saw in building the Macintosh factory in Fremont, CA. It is easy for new ideas to flow quickly from country ot country. Pascale calls for more in his book when he pleads, "but technology, technique, and innovative ways of thinking move across national boundaries more readily than ways of perceiving, believing, and behaving. We face a tough task in changing how we manage because we are a large part of the problem. We must change who we are, as well as what we do."
Ezra Vogel tells of the close cooperation of the Japanese government and business. The ministries are quick to share with business information that they have gathered at great expense. However, sometimes the private companies outshine the Japanese government, especially in areas where they have a substantial economic interest: "In 1973 the American government was shocked to learn that Soviet officials in the United States had arranged with an American company for a large sale of wheat to the Soviet Union, but a Japanese trading company was not surprised. Officials in the Moscow office of the trading company had wired the Tokyo office that several high trade officals who would make such agreements were suddenly absent from the moscow scene. Upon request from the Tokyo office, company employees stationed in New York found that these officials were going through a New York airport en route to Colorado, and regional trading company officials were able to confirm that they were meeting with the American company. It was not difficult to surmise what the meeting was about. The purpose of the Japanese company's research was to make some adjustments to the grain market before information about the purchase became public and caused a rise in the price of grain."
Vogel offers the Japanese view of the U.S. political system: "The Japanese believe that the American system--wherein individual contributors pressure individual politicians to their own ends, and some groups are better organized than others--leads to haphazard results that do not necessarily reflect the major interests of the largest number. They perceive America as making political decisions that are inadequately considered, subject to idiosyncrasies, and lacking in constancy and breadth of vision."
All this is quite possibly true; However, I as a reader could not grasp what the author was calling for other than a revision of the U.S. political system. I don't feel that any one system is better than all others. I think that the system must mold itself to the culture and personality of the nation. Even though we sweep the bureaucrats out every four or eight years, we still manage to have vision enough to put a man on the moon. Our leading world position in computers was not a result of studied proclamation of the government, but of companies left to their own devices.
Davidson points out that the United states Government has stood stauchly in support of free trade, whereas the Japanese government has a lopsided view of free trade--that is, free export and restricted import. Furthermore, the establishment of NASA by the U.S. government was not for economic purposes, but for the lofty goal of achieving and maintaining a position of world leadership in technology, sicence, and military endeavors. Davidson concludes that it is important from a military standpoint for the U.S. government to encourage, economically, a strong ally such as Japan in the Asian basin. This strategy benefits the U.S. military and the U.S. consumer. It is generally bad for U.S. industry and the unemployed workers hurt by the flood of cheap Japanese goods.
The Art of Japanese Management is devoted entirely to an explanation of why the Japanese culture produces organizations that are far better than U.S. organizations in promoting the four "soft" S's. The Seven S's are:
Strategy: Plan or course of action
Structure: Characterization of the organization chart
Systems: Procedures, etc.
Style: How key managers behave in achieving goals
Skills: Capabilities of key personnel
Superordinate Goals: Guiding concepts of the organization The last four S's are the soft ones. The whole book is built around these factors and a comparison of the successes of Japanese and U.S. corporations with these factors. This is just the kind of gruel that bores a computer nerd like me.
Vogel in Japan as Number 1 concentrates on the successes Japan has had in industry, politics, basic education, welfare, and crime control. The point of his book is not to offer a balanced comparison of the Japanese vs. the U.S. but rather a detailed look at their successes and what lessons we may learn from them. Japan, of course, has had notable failures, but Vegel's book doesn't mention them since he is dwelling only on the successes.
It is hard to keep this in mind when you read his book. You get the feeling that you are getting a one-sided, biased discussion of Japan, and you are. Our culture encourages competition, so, when any red-blooded American reads this book, he will read it as competition instead of just a look at Japan's success.
Japanese traditionally don't share the competitiveness of Americans. Take a stroll in any Japanese park on a warm spring day and you will see hundreds of people hitting a shuttlecock back and forth. They are not playing a game. They are not keeping score. They are just having fun. I was somewhat shocked when I first was asked to play tennis in Japan. We warmed up for an inordinate amount of time. When I suggested that we start, I was told that the "game" was over and it was time for the next set of players to take to the court. Frankly, I like competition, and that is perhaps why I liked Davidson's book best.
The Amazing Race was published this year. Even so, the computer industry is changing so fast, that the book is out-of-date. Davidson states: "The low end of the personal computer market, in the $400-and-below segment, is dominated by Atari, Commodore, Texas Instruments, and Sinclair." Of course, the last two have dropped out of the U.S. market. However, most of what Davidson says is current and crucial to an understanding of who is going to win the computer race.
Like any good sports commentator, Davidson gives the background story on each constestant: Japan's industrial strategy and economic system, and those of the U.S. move into a post-industrial society in the 60's and 70's. He then lays out the rules for the contest and the prize for the winner: world domination of information technology. With charts and diagrams he skillfully illustrates the current position of each contestant in the race. Finally, Davidson has the courage to prognosticate the winner. I won't give away the exciting conclusion, but encourage all who are interested in this race to read The Amazing Race.
Review Grade: B