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Divide and Prosper: An Asian Model for Successful Business Growth

November 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I recently read Divide and Prosper, by Kuniyasu Sakai and Hiroshi Sekiyama, and posted a review in Goodreads.  My full review is linked here.

The book is, ostensibly, a business book.  It is written as an inspirational management guide.  As such, Divide and Prosper is extremely useful, providing a wealth of practical information for a successful business manager.  But this is only one tiny fraction of the book’s value.  The greatest merits of the book come from its attempt to inspire and motivate younger people to aspire to more than is offered by the status quo.

In my review, I wrote about the author’s detailed description of the subcontractor system in Japan in the section, “Big Business, Small Companies.” In this section, Sakai and Sekiyama describe carefully how the major corporations enslave the majority of the nation’s companies and people.

To Sakai and Sekiyama, the status quo does not provide redeeming lives to the majority of people.  This goes against the conventional “wisdom,” which says that Japan has achieved a higher standard of living than most of the nations of the world.  While it may have severe limitations in space and cost of living, the standard of wealth, safety, and convenience make Japan a mark of success, not failure.  But rather than spreading wealth thinly and evenly across the majority of the nation – as is the “common knowledge” explanation goes – the subcontracting system enslaves the majority of people. The big companies are not much more that a system of installing a small cadre of mediocre administrators to threaten, cajole, and pacify the masses, while pooling the wealth into the hands of a few wealthy and powerful elites, who hide anonymously behind the veils of their organizations.

First, the authors describe how the system is integral to the Japanese economy as a whole.  “The shitauke system is in one sense the very foundation of our modern business and industrial structure, the base upon which our giant commercial structure has been built.”  They continue to say that,”large corporations in a wide variety of fields act merely as “trading companies,” farming out jobs to their affiliates at cut-rate prices while charging their clients for the prestige of dealing with a top-notch Japanese firm.”

This structure is possible because the major, publicly traded, international corporations only comprise a small minority of the Japanese economy.  Sakai and Sekiyama write that, “90% of Japanese economy is minor industry.  Relatively few companies have more than three hundred employees, and more than three-quarters of all Japanese companies are very small, employing only a handful of people.  The real backbone of the Japanese industry is not the Toyotas and Nissans, the Matsushitas and Sonys, the Fujitsus and NECs, but rather, the thousands upon thousands of small firms that allow these behemoths to exist in the first place.”  Here, we start to see that the heart of their story is not just a positive guide to successful business, but a scathing war cry, aiming to defeat the massive corporate giants that cripple Japan and, ultimately, our world.

“In Japan, most small firms (and nearly all small manufacturing firms) exist in the shadow of a few dozen giant corporations which completely control their destinies. The master firm completely controls both its subcontractors’ production levels and unit costs, and this is the reason the giant industrial combines so jealously guard this system.”  Of course.  If a big company can control the production level and unit costs, it can offload most of its risks and take most of the returns from manufacturing.  It automatically inflates the big companies at the expense of the smaller subcontractors.

“What many people, even here in Japan, would find surprising is the astounding quantity of goods the firm purchases rather than manufactures.”  Again, this should not come as a surprise.  Manufacturing themselves would create a large number of “risks”, namely the human resources, facilities, and capital necessary to produce products.  Instead, the big corporations merely farm out the production, waiting “to put its name on the outer case and send the products through its international marketing and distribution system.”

This structure, Sakai and Sekiyama say, is an “industrial shock absorber.”  “The advantages of this system for the parent firm are just as obvious as the disadvantages for the smaller firms.  If the giant corporation falls on hard times, it will take a very long time (as we saw in the 90s) before it needs to lay off employees or radically alter any part of its own corporate structure.  It battens down the hatches and rides out the storm, keeping its own inconvenience to a minimum.”

“Having served as one of these “slave” companies for many years, I believe very strongly that a situation in which one must produce at another’s beck and call is ultimately destructive. ”

Men are not lemmings.  Of course, the “mass suicide” popular story about lemmings is a misconception, but the metaphor that we frequently behave unquestioningly as popular opinion dictates, with potentially fatal or dangerous consequences is, I think, quite valid.  Our fetish with big things – especially BIG business, BIG companies, and BIG data – may, in fact doom us.  I hope not.

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A Sacred COW

March 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The last time I felt a similar sense of belonging and being a part of something really HUGE was when I watched for the first time the Future of Money video around a year ago.

It seems obvious to me that young people everywhere are not happy with what they see is the state of our world.  They understand this state in a way that very few people previously understood.  Part of this is the ubiquity of the internet.  Part of it is their sense that they can trust each other via social media much more than they can many of the companies, politicians, and organizations that surround them in their real-life communities.

But another part of their newfound understanding is due to the tenuous state of our world.  Environmentally, it seems that we are on the brink of ecological catastrophe.  Economically, it seems that there is no end to the greed that motivates the few to punish and persecute the many.  Militarily, it seems that the mighty continue to fuel instability in the lands of the less mighty in order to continue to maintain control of energy resources.  Politically, it seems that we can only elect people who are willing to pander to the corporate elite and continue the fiscal pyramid scheme that Wall Street propagates.  Socially, it seems that the gates of the Gentlemen’s Clubs are closed permanently as the wealthy get older and the older live longer and healthier lives.

Cover of "When Corporations Rule the Worl...

Cover via Amazon

The OWS and 99% movements, Arab Spring, and indigenous peasant movements of Latin America are only some of the signs that people are not happy with the direction of global corporate rule.  Naomi Klein‘s The Shock Doctrine and David Korten‘s When Corporations Rule the World

are but two of many voices of dissent that are reverberating throughout the socially connected world.

Coalition of the Willing

When G.W. Bush used the term “Coalition of the Willing”, he referred, of course, to the countries who supported, militarily or verbally, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent military presence in post-invasion Iraq. The irony is that many of the nations in the coalition had their political arms twisted, included countries that do not have standing armies, and was eventually the butt of the joke that its acronym, COW, refers to the situation that the United States is being milked as a “cash cow”.

ExPrime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony B...

ExPrime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair shaking hands with President of the United States, George W. Bush, after they conclude a joint news conference at the Camp David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But now, a new Coalition of the Willing is beginning to emerge that is truly a coalition of people who are willing to plan and act with the future at stake.  This new COW is, firstly, a collaborative animated film and web-based event – an online war against global warming in a ‘post Copenhagen’ world.

The film is a collaborative effort of 24 artists from around the world.  This is, in itself, a feat that probably could not have happened a mere decade ago.  If it could, it would have taken years to create.  I have no idea how long it took these artists to collaborate on the 15-minute film, but I assume it has been created over a period of a few months – or even weeks.  Full details on the 24 collaborators can be found on the COW Website.

The film is an incredible inspiration!

Work/Life Losing its Balance

February 28, 2012 2 comments

Human Resource Executive Online – Work/Life Loses its Balance.

This article on Human Resource Executive Online looks at the drop, as a motivator, from 4th to 7th for work/life balance among American corporate leaders, between 2006 and 2009.  For the past 3 years, it has maintained its position at #7 of 19 possible motivators surveyed.  While this drop is not large, it is significant, because it is frequently said that only the top 5 motivators have a great effect on their actions/choices.  If so, then the idea that work/life balance is critical for success may no longer a priority among a great many corporate leaders in the US.

In the rest of the world, such a balance may be even less of a motivation.  It is frequently said that in Asia people work harder than in most of the world.  While the balance between work and life is complex and very affected by culture, the idea that employers should be concerned for the work/life balance of their employees is one that often starts with how corporate leaders think about it for themselves.

I’m very concerned about leadership, though I’m not as concerned with *corporate leadership* nor what the CL have to say… Nevertheless, it is somewhat disconcerting that CL concerns for work/life balance is lower in importance to them than 6 years ago – if it isn’t as important to them as then, then it is likely that they don’t care as much about balance for their employees, either.

While I believe that my work is my life, giving me the balance that enables my to be healthy and energized, for most people, work is a 9-to-5 grind.  I also think that usually, when execs start to question the importance of work/life balance, it is time to “watch out” – they usually are prepping to step up the pace on the assembly line and drop the axe on those who fail to hop uptempo.

The Story of Broke

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

It seems that the world is full of people who are broke.  Heck, even nations, like Greece, are close to broke.  Or, if you think about how much they’ve put future generations in debt, then countries like the United States and Japan are broke.

Or, are they?

If you think about it, these nations are collecting more than a trillion dollars each year in taxes.  Sure, they are spending more than they “earn”.  But surely they can be better managed, without cutting on schools, healthcare, pensions, and social services.

Here is a simple and entertaining video illustrating why you should reconsider our government’s priorities.  Then, it is up to you to think and act upon this.  Our collective future depends on it.

Occupied Washington | Mother Jones

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Occupy Wall Street poster

Occupied Washington | Mother Jones.

The article linked above, from Mother Jones, is one of the most cogent I’ve read about the Occupy Wall Street and related protests around the globe. The movement is important historically and politically, because it directly attacks the economic underpinnings of the the modern capitalist economy.

Although the movement is often portrayed as a disoriented, disconnected, fragmented, and undefined group that is, at best, misguided and futile, it is clear that the majority of people in the United States and in the world are not pleased about the obscene power and wealth hoarded by the 1%. Focusing their anger not towards the political theater in Washington, but directly at the filthy rich, the OWS movement has made economic fairness the central political, social, and intellectual issue of our time.

This is, ultimately, as it should be. How we create a world that is fair for everyone – enabling the vast majority to lead challenging and rewarding lives – is the most important human endeavor. The kids in tents have made a huge impact already; they will, in fact, inherit the earth. Hopefully, the Earth they inherit will be one that is beautiful, bountiful, and kind.

Occupy Everywhere: From Wall Street to Main Street

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

The Occupy Wall Street has become so ubiquitous that its acronym – OWS – is now familiar. Still, it is primarily interpreted as a protest, which is only a small part of the movement’s intent. It is actually probably a bit presumptuous to call it a singly movement, when it is really a combination of many movements. While most people are focused on what appears to be a tidal wave, I think that the most important thing is that there are billions of people riding that wave, not being swept underneath its path.

A related movement, of course, is 99%.

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

While the recent days have seen police throughout the US break up tent cities and arrest mostly non-violent protesters, it is clear that the vast majority of Americans see that the basic tenets of OWS and 99% are true. They are upset over the bankers, the investment brokers, and the 1% that own and employ and enjoy the corporate welfare while continuing to exert pressure on the government through lobbying and threats to move capital and jobs offshore. Their threats work, because recent history indicates that these threats are real.

So what is left for the rest of us to do? Everything, really. It is not really Wall Street or Oakland or the city centers anywhere that we need to occupy. We obviously need to live somewhere. We all need to work, play, learn, love, eat, do, and sing and dance.

We need to gather and talk, to think and act, to be firm and certain, to question and reconsider. We need to be considerate and kind, deliberate and apologize when we are wrong. But we cannot continue to expect that somehow pandering to the greed and power of the 1% will somehow lead to a desirable end for all. It won’t happen – ever.

So OWS is here to stay, at least until WS is just another street where some blokes live. I will choose, then, to live on a stream, rather than a street, pursuing a less convenient life in order to find, with a bit of difficulty, the pleasures that come the hard way. But to get there, we have a whole lot of hard work ahead. Good thing that there are a lot of people willing to lend a good hand. Chippin’ in, as they say, with a little bit of a lot.

It’s mighty fine company we share! Good to be a part of the 99; it sure is lonely being the only 1.

This 2 hour video is from The Nation and The New School in New York City and is about the movement after OWS. It comes from a live broadcast of an event held on Thursday, November 10, at The New School in New York City. The New School hosted Occupy Everywhere: On the New Politics and Possibilities of the Movement Against Corporate Power, a discussion featuring award-winning filmmaker and author Michael Moore (Here Comes Trouble), best-selling author and Nation columnist Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine), Nation National Affairs correspondent William Greider (Come Home, America), Colorlines Publisher Rinku Sen (The Accidental American), Occupy Wall Street Organizer Patrick Bruner and Richard Kim, executive editor, The Nation.com (moderator).

Symbionomics: Contributing to a New Future…

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been really thinking a lot about how money works over the past few weeks.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  It seems that there are a lot of troubles with the flow of money over the past few months.  It is something that has been going on for quite some time, but in Japan, the connected calamities starting with the 9.1 magnitude quake of 3.11.2011 and subsequent 30-meter tsunami waves that crushed communities along a 1000 km coastline have resulted in a complex stagnation of the flow of money, people, and ideas.

While simultaneously trying to revive flows of capital, I have been thinking, of course, about the real problems in our interlinked monetary system.  There is something intrinsicly wrong with a system that encourages some people to hoard while severely limiting the flow to others, in far greater numbers.  It is not different from allowing people who happen to live in the mountains to dam the rivers, providing themselves with a surplus of water and stored energy, while the far greater numbers of people in the valleys below become poor, unhealthy, and dependent on the whims and charity of the mountain dwellers.

There is much to do to restore fairness as the guiding principle for governance and capital distribution of the entire planet.  We are all to blame for systems that reward the few at the expense of most.  We are not bullys or victims, but are losing the battle for a healthy and safe planet for human existence.  We don’t have long to dilly and dather.  Let’s share the good ideas, consider them, and implement the ones that have a strong chance of providing for a better future.

<p>LandingPage from alan rosenblith on Vimeo.</p>

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