Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 8 / AUGUST 1984 / PAGE 54

Japan and the U.S.: the conflict. S. Reisman.

Necessity is the mother of invention. And in the Western World, typified mainly by the United States, creativity is the seed and motivating agent of necessity. And the necessity is individual personal success. Japan is different. The necessity in Japan is societal harmony, and this necessity, as in the United States, is a function of the land, its people, and their history.

As a Canadian living in the U.S. for the last few years, I have had an opportunity to work with corporate America. Coincidentally, and simultaneously, I have also been fortunate (or unfortunate) to work both with and for corporate Japan. These circumstances have provided me with the occasion and environment to observe and compare the two cultures as they operate within the computer marketplace. And let me state at the onset, that though my perspective as a foreigner could be objective, my assessments are by no means so. I readily admit to a subjective perspective favoring Western business styles.

In the discussion that follows, I intend to present my opinions regarding some key differences between basic American and Japanese behaviors. Additionally, I will attempt to examine, in a very global sense, some of the causes of these differences. My purpose in doing so is simply to provide interested readers with additional insight which might be used to their advantage at the negotiating table.

American culture, and by extension business, is characterized by entrepreneurship. To operate as a businessman in America, one must be able to assess quickly all manner of data, to make deliberate decision, and to act on those decisions. A successful businessman is one who can make a unique decision and proceed to capitalize financially on it. The computer industry is filled with success stories which have followed this model. T.J. Watson, who established IBM, was one such businessman. Other notables in this group include Bill Gates of Microsoft, Seymour Rubenstein of MicroPro, and Mitchell Kapor of Lotus. The ingredient common to all these men is their ability to be creative in assessing a particular marketing requirement, acting on the assessment, and ultimately, generating large financial returns from their products.

In a more general sense, these men illustrate the approach Americans have

to tackling most life         situations.  From the

Pilgrims through to the pioneers who tamed the Wild West, up to the space program, Americans have constantly exhibited creative characteristics that have resulted success.

Japan, on the other hand, is very different from the United States. Unlike the United States, the Japanese culture has been thousands of years in development. Unlike the United States, Japan is geographically restricted. Unlike the United States, Japan's population is constricted by its geography. Like other island peoples (notablly the British), the Japanese are fiercely chauvinistic--at times almost to a state of paranoia.

Because of such characteristics, Japanese society has evolved in a fashion entirely different from America. The very traits that generate success in America are scorned in Japan. For example, new expressions of art, music, and science are strongly encuraged in the United States. In Japan, however, new expressions in these areas are rare. Instead, the Japanese seem to focus on perfecting, sometimes pedantically, already perfect products and processes. An example of this can be seen in the fine skills developed over the centuries, in the growing and careful manicuring of Japanese gardens. As strange as this example might seem at first, I believe that it represents an important difference between the two societies.

In Japan, where land for decorative gardening is in short supply, gardening skills have focused on the development of finer, and ever finer, Japanese gardens. And today, many Americans take pride in gardens cared for in the U.S. by expatriate Japanese.

American gardens on the other hand, when tended by Americans, rarely display the skill and artistry of their Japanese counterparts. American gardens are large, expansive, and colorful--a reflection of the availability of land as well as the extroverted and, more important, creative nature of Americans.

Another important and often discussed issue which clearly is different in the two societies is the place of the individual. In a small, physically limited environment like Japan, it is essential for there to be an orderly, harmonious movement of the population. Unless the society is in complete physical, mental, and emotional harmony, that confined population would be in chaos. Through centuries of development, Japanese society has evolved to a state of relative harmony. To maintain this harmony, foreign influences, which might disrupt the orderly daily activities of Japanese life, have historically become restricted. To the outside world, this has sometimes manifested itself as arrogance toward all non-Japanese and as high trade and cultural barriers.

The need for Japanese society to move in harmony has generally meant that every individual in Japan has a responsibility to maintain that harmony. Consequently, each Japanese person develops a sense of belonging to the whole, and that whole is, to him, more important than expressions of individualism or independent creativity.

From another perspective, and one that is, perhaps, somewhat more charitable, opportunities for creativity are also much different for citizens of Japan than they are for Americans.

Creativity does not take place in a vacuum. A few years ago, an "executive toy" intended to foster creative decision making became very popular among middle and upper manager The toy, which was itself a very creative product, was a rotable plastic sphere about 5" in diameter. The sphere could be placed on the corner of the manager's desk beside his penholder or quartz calendar/ time desk clock. The sphere, which was hollow, contained hundreds of small slips of paper, each with a different word printed on it.

When the manager sat at his desk, considering new projects, solutions to problems, etc., he was supposed to rotate this sphere so that when hestopped, one of those random printed words would appear in a small transparent window which was part of the sphere. Contemplation of that random word in the context of the problem under consideration was supposed to help the manager factor into the range of possible solutions, a new variable, one which in his own experience-set might not otherwise have arisen. The sphere acted as a source of new input to the creative process.

Frequently, creativity does take place in this fashion. Usually though, it occurs somewhat less deliberately than through the use of devices such as the sphere. In the United States and in the West general, where societal order is less regimented than in Japan, random stimuli and excessses of individual human behavior in either a positive or negative sense are more the norm. Constant changes in American life provide a well fertilized environment for the generation of new ideas--that is, for creativity.

Finally, returning to the concept with which I began this thesis, I must touch upon the relationship of creativity to invention and the substantial differences between the two cultures in this regard.

As I stated previously, America is a land trailblazers--both on Earth and in space. It has become a land of 225 million independent entrepreneurs, most

of whom want to achie         ve wealth, fame,

etc. America isprobably the least socialized Western country.

Pensions, health care, education, and a variety of other services are available in the United States, both as private offerings and from state and federal governments. However, the preponderance of private offerings is astounding compared to Canada and most western European countries. Privately offered health and education, for example, is costly but the quality of these is usually higher than equivalent public services.

This is a country in which every person is a businessperson and every citizen a customer. It is also a country in which each person is responsible for his own fiscal circumstances. Consumer laws and government guidelines are minimally available. Justice for those who are taken advantage of is also available--but usually in the courtroom.

In a sense, though the United States is probably the most moral and justice oriented country in the world, there is very little preventive "justice care." And even the justice system reflects the entrepreneurial nature of American society. But, for those persistent enough, justice can ultimately be squeezed from the overcrowded American judicial system.

This is so much different from other Western countries in which the court system is usually the last resort to obtaining justice. In most of these countries, consumer laws at every level of government have been designed to protect the individual from the wiles and guiles of adventurous and creative businessmen. And at the same time, those very lwas, guidelines, and rules, to one degree or other, restrict the creative energies of those businessmen.

In a simplified sense, it is precisely this set of American attributes--the set that does not discourage innovative and creative thought processes--in any part of society, that has resulted in America's leading the world into through the Twentieth Century. This leadership manifests itself as a national characteristic when, in reality, it is the consequence of the success of individuals--individuals who often attain international recognition through their own creative activities.

Japan is very different in this regard. As described previously, Japan is, overall, a society in harmony. To the @western eye, the teeming flow of humanity, the apparently reckless traffic patterns, and the sensory barrage of fluorescent lights in the Akihabara district seem to contradict this harmony. These manifestations are disharmonious to the unconditioned Westerner for whom these sights and sounds are foreign and unfamiliar. The apparent lack of harmony is reinforced for the foreigner by the strange sounds of the Japanese language and the unrecognizable kanji on the street signs.

But on closer examination, order is present. And at least to the individual Japanese citizen, harmony is also present. The Japanese transportation system carries incredible numbers of passengers with extraordinary punctuality. Automobile accident rates, while high even for Japan, would be of battleground proportions in the United States if we were to implement Japanese driving mores. Crime rates in Japan are exceptionally low when compared to the United States. And if you factor population demographics into crime rate statistics, violent crime in Japan is essentially non-existent.

Societal pressures to conform in Japan are extraordinary. Justice takes place at every level of society--within apartment buildings, neighborhoods, and corporate environments. The pressure to conform is never ending. Even physical pressure to conform is overwhelming. As evidence, I challenge you to attempt to leave Tokyo on a morning train when commuters are arriving in the city. New York' Grand Central Station is a rural trainstop by comparison.

In this soceity, there is simply no place for individual self-expression. It upsets the harmony. It is disruptive to established societal behaviors and even day-to-day lifestyles and activities. In shor, Japan is a well oiled mass society with rules, pattern, and laws which are in place for the purpose of maintaining the status qou. Japan cannot afford to encourage individualism. It cannot allow widespread entrepreneurship in the American sense. And, as a consequence, it is not a breeding ground for creativity.

And herein lie the essential differences between Japan and the United States. Japanese business activity reflects a highly organized mass society which does not encourage individual eslf-expression and creativity. American society is largely entrepreneurial in nature and rewards successful individual creative achievements. To the Japanese, American creativity in its early stages often appears to be disorganized and unjustifiably risk-taking.

To Americans, Japanese self-control and pensive consideration of issues, often appears to be time-consuming, an over conservative business tactic, and a behavior which allows opportunities to be missed.

A basic understanding of the differences detween the American approach to business and the Japan approach is essential in the 1980's. There is little likelihood that they and we will reduce our business interactions. Increased flow of goods between the countries is inevitable, and more frequent joint ventures are likely. In either of these situations, we Westerners will find ourselves with more opportunities to work with and for Japan, Inc.

We must enter such relationships fully aware of the vast behavioral differences which separates us. Only through such an awareness will we be able to capitalize fully on the opportunities that present themselves to us and thus to optimize our return--either personal or financial.