Shall we take a walk through a Japanese garden of good thinking?
The Japanese methods of accomplishing tasks often intrigue other cultures, but it is important to recognize that people from different backgrounds can also acquire the same level of precision.
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Paul Akers as they discuss what Japanese precision is, and how it can help make life better.
- Eliminating waste. At 1:43, Paul talks about his pursuit of eliminating waste.
- Passion to help others. At 7:13, Paul talks about his book 2 Second Lean, and his passion for helping others.
- Good thinking. At 8:40, Paul explains why he describes his book as “a walk through a Japanese garden of good thinking.”
- Satori moments. Paul shares his deep understanding of the Japanese culture and its service industry.
- Focusing on the process. At 15:51 Nick and Paul talk about how Japanese people pay great attention to detail and focus more on process.
- The big twins. Paul explains ‘the big twins’ at 23:04: deep respect for people and deep respect for resources.
- Survival thinking. At 26:51, Paul shares how Japanese thinking, or what he calls ‘survival thinking’, impacts his life.
- Paul’s ikigai. Paul shares his ikigai at 30:39: to treat people who serve him with deep respect.
Paul Akers is the founder and president of Fastcap, a product development company specializing in woodworking tools and hardware for professional builders. He also travels the world as a speaker and champion of lean marketing and lean thinking. He is host of the weekly podcast The American Innovator and the author of five books, including Banish Sloppiness (discussed in this episode).
Paul discovered one of his ikigai when Japanese consultants visited his company and pointed out areas where he could improve his understanding of manufacturing. Instead of feeling offended, Paul embraced their feedback and sought their advice. With their guidance, he identified and eliminated "non-value-added" activities that were consuming time and resources unnecessarily. This not only saved time and money but also allowed Paul to enjoy his work more, granting him the opportunity to tackle complex problems and engage in thoughtful decision-making.
Paul first went to Japan in 2000 to learn more about lean manufacturing; he went to Toyota and Lexus and saw the huge contrast between their operations and those at his company.
Passion to help othersPaul has written several books about lean manufacturing. including "2 Second Lean.” He wrote this book partly to get all his thinking down on paper, and partly because it is his passion to help other people and he wanted to share his knowledge to and hopefully help improve other people’s lives. He tries to articulate the concepts simply and effectively so that they can reach and be understood by more people.
Good thinkingPaul has also written Banish Sloppiness, a book he describes as “a walk through a Japanese garden of good thinking.” Paul explains that while Japanese people may not do everything right, they do manage to do a lot of things at a very high level; he thinks that Japanese culture is far above everyone else because Japanese people know how to slow down and think deeply: They think about the matrix, the whole sphere of what’s going on in their realm, and how it affects everything around them.
Satori momentsPaul had his satori “enlightenment” moments in Japan, where he had instances of deep understanding that so much of the Japanese culture and service industry is about precision.
He shared one incident where he was in a convenience store and there was a line of about four or five people who each stood very precisely according to lines demarcated on the floor; when it was his turn, the cashier gestured very calmly and politely to walk him through the process of handing over the items he wished to buy and paying for these with his card. This transaction highlighted for Paul the precision, calmness, and politeness that the Japanese people manifest.
Focusing on the process
Paul emphasizes that Japanese individuals prioritize the process over the outcome, a perspective he personally experienced through the concept of "big eyes, big ears, and small mouths."
To illustrate this idea, he recounts an incident during his visit to a Japanese factory. Upon entering the office and switching his shoes for slippers, he was approached by the tour guide, who noticed that his socks were mismatched in color, albeit with a minimal difference. This keen observation by the tour guide exemplifies the remarkable attention to detail.
Nick shares the conversation he had with Ken Mogi, where Ken talked about the importance of harmony and how Japanese people realize that when they voice their opinions or express something, whether it’s right or wrong, that can still impact other people. ‘Conscientious’ is one of the words that best describe Japanese people.
The big twins
Paul introduces the concept of ‘the big twins’: deep respect for people and deep respect for resources. Paul learned to be grateful for the resources that he has and everything that has been made available for him. As gratitude, he makes sure to take care of the resources that are available for him.
He remembers when he found himself in an untidy restroom of a sewing store in the US. Instead of complaining, Paul focused on how lucky he was to be able to use the store’s bathroom, and as a demonstration of thanks he cleaned the toilet and sink, and left the bathroom very clean. This allowed him to show respect for the resource that was given to him.
In his book, Paul describes Japanese thinking as long-term survival thinking, and relates it to precision -- with precision comes quality, which results in trust, and if a company has customer trust, that results in survival. He shares that everything that he does is not about how it will affect today, tomorrow, five years from now, but what’s going to happen 100 years from now, when he’s gone.
Paul’s ikigai is to treat people who serve him with deep respect. He loves to find people who are seemingly in a lowly position and give them respect; it’s caring about the people that don’t have the abundance that other people have. He believes that he is lucky for what he has right now, and that’s why he wants to give back to those people who are in need.
Each one of us would benefit from cultivating a deep respect for the people and resources that we have. It is all too easy to overlook these things and fail to realize their importance in our lives. We can learn from how Japanese people apply precision and respect even when doing the simplest tasks, the way they value every relationship, and how they express gratitude for their surroundings.