What is Japanese precision?
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve probably been astounded at how Japanese people carry out tasks with great accuracy. Other cultures are often fascinated by the Japanese ways of doing things -- but this same precision can also be attained by people from elsewhere.
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.
- Lean manufacturing in Japan. At 6:04, Paul shares his experience learning about Toyota Production System and Lean Manufacturing in Japan.
- 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).
One of Paul’s ikigai is his pursuit of eliminating waste. Paul shares that it all started when some Japanese consultants came to look at his company’s processes and procedures and indicated that they felt he didn’t sufficiently understand manufacturing; this was a surprise because his company does well and has won awards. Rather than be offended, Paul wanted to learn from them and asked for their advice. They helped him pinpoint ‘non-value-added’ activities that were a waste of time and could be removed in order to save not just time but also money. By eliminating waste, Paul was able to enjoy his work more -- it gave him more time to think and solve more complex problems.
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. One of these is 2 Second Lean, which he wrote 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.
Nick agrees, having experienced this himself: he saw how the Japanese really embrace the idea of looking after their customers, even in the smallest situations.
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.
Nick says that in the West, people tend to focus on big ambitions and goals; in Japan, on the other hand, people aren’t as boastful and instead value and focus on the little things.
Focusing on the process
Paul says that Japanese people focus on the process rather than the outcome, and he shares his experience with learning about ‘big eyes, big ears, and small mouths’. To illustrate this concept, he shares an experience he had when visiting a Japanese factory: Upon entering their office and taking off his shoes to put on slippers, he was asked by the tour guide why he was wearing mismatched socks; he had put on two different colours by accident, and the difference between them was very small, but the tour guide noticed this because of how attentive Japanese people are to details, and how much use they make of their five senses.
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 says that he has learned to be grateful for the resources that he has and everything that has been made available for him; as an expression of his gratitude, he makes sure to take care of the resources that are available for him.
He remembers using the bathroom of a sewing store in the United States; it was untidy, with paper all over the floor. 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 discusses how people influence their society, culture, and country, from one generation to another. As an example, he mentions something he learned from his father: long-term thinking and sustainability. Seeing how his father invested in real estate, Paul also started investing in real estate when he got to college. This decision was influenced by his father, and we can all influence each other in similar ways.
Nick thinks of it as good quality. People do get caught up in their daily lives and immediate needs or wants, and a long-term, deep-thinking, sustainable approach would benefit people and others they care about -- and the world more generally.
Paul’s ikigai is to treat people who serve him with deep respect. He says that 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.