To Japanese eyes, and even to quite sophisticated and educated eyes, they
are all part of a viable and quite acceptable package. Some might like a few changes
here or there, but the overall concept of the enterprise as the focus for emotional
rather than principled loyalties is preferred.
Take away the key elements of the package and it starts to disintegrate, as many Western firms entering Japan with management reforming zeal have found too late to their cost.
Which brings me back to the more philosophical question of how and why we see the enterprise in such different terms. To date we in the West have assumed that the path of social advance requires us to move from the instinctive to the principled, the emotional to the intellectual.
Or as the sociologists and economists put it, we move from the particularistic to the universalistic. Instead of seeing things in terms of particular relationships and situations, we are urged to take a broader view based on universally applicable standards. Implicit in this scheme of things is the equation of universalism with rationality.
On this basis most have tended to see the world very much in terms of Fig 1,
with economic development showing a direct functional relationship to our level of
universalism. Naturally, we like to place our own societies of northern Europe and
America (N) at the top.
The problem, of course, is that Fig. 1 requires us to classify nations like China and
India (C and I) as "backward" in terms of values, even though they have civilizations more principled than in the West, and certainly more so than in Japan. A similar problem exists when we relegate southern Europe/ America (S) to the left of N.
To get round the problem the scholars have generally ignored it. Instead they have concentrated on the nature of groups within the various societies. They have defined groups such as clan (extended family) and caste as found in China and India as particularistic, and therefore backward, since they involved association with a particular and strictly-defined group of people on the basis of traditional and rigid criteria. As a result these groups were said to be less than rational.
At the other end of the scale they located enterprise and nation. These two groups were said to be most rational because they required value systems that allowed people to discard outdated and traditional rules, and to come together on a more functional and practical basis.
Intermediate societies and groups were seen including both rational and irrational aspects.
The problem in all this, however, is Japan. Thirty years ago on the basis of these rather artificial criteria it could be slotted into an intermediate position at J. But today its development is on a par with N, but its values, particularly within the enterprise, show little sign of change to universalism. It has to be located at J, far from the curve OT. Clearly we need to take another hard look at the whole concept of particularism, universalism and social advance as it has been developed to date. And a good starting point as any is the concept of the enterprise as a "rational" grouping.
Some have noted with bemused interest the way the Japanese identify themselves by place of work rather than the nature of their work. The hypothetical example is the engineer or driver who is asked what he does and in the West says engineer or driver, but in Japan he says he works for XX company.
In real life we have the way people automatically introduce themselves or others as Mr. Soand-So of such-and-such an organization, and will carry cards and badges to prove it.
In Western eyes, the Japanese approach is backward and feudal. The attributes of one's work should be more important than its location; being an engineer or even a driver should be more important than the fact of working for XX company. We believe strongly that it is only when people take pride and see identity in such professional qualifications there that will be a stimulus for progress. In any case we see the ability to attach to abstract attribute as more "intellectual" than the instinctive, emotional attachment to place of work.
But even at this seemingly obvious level, can we be sure that the more "intellectual" approach of the West is an advantage?
For example, a major plus in the Japanese enterprise is the way technical and supervisory staff are quite happy to work on the factory floor, even if they do get their hands dirty. People whose identity hangs on maintaining their professional status are less likely to make that concession.
The much-noted and much-praised ease with which people can be shifted from one type of work to another in response to technological change is another by-product of the Japanese approach.
For lower level workers-drivers rather than engineers-trade union membership becomes an important prop to identity. But whereas in the West the union will tend to be organized on the basis of attribute-the craft union-in Japan it is location-the company union.
Experience suggests the latter is often considerably less harmful to productivity than the former.
True, emphasis on location rather than attribute can lead to the lack of inter-enterprise mobility that bothers Western management specialists so much. It can also lead to a lack of professional drive and discipline in the sciences and advanced technologies.
These may be very small minuses to pay for the very large pluses outlined above, and they can, in any case, be easily compensated for by in-house training and the borrowing of skills developed by others.
At the level of applied technology and quality control, where concentrated group effort may be a more important factor than individual pride, there are signs the Japanese already have an edge over the West.
In short, the "feudal" approach of the Japanese to the enterprise may in its very conceptual basis, quite apart from its actual working, be superior to the more "advanced" Western approach.
As the Japanese put it, "the enterprise is people." An approach based on that rather simple and obvious truth may be more logical and rational than one that tries to convert the enterprise, and the employment in that enterprise, into some abstract concept regulated by intellectually-satisfying principles.
True, there are many groups in advanced societies where a more "intellectual" approach is in fact needed, where attribute is more important than location, where abstract concepts are more important than relations with people. Religious, political and professional groups are obvious examples.
So too are other issue groups (consumer protection, women's liberation) and even academic institutions perhaps. With due respect, I suggest these groups are better organized in the non-Japanese societies than in Japan.
But little of this is relevant to the enterprise group. Why? Because unlike politics, religion or women's liberation, there really is little satisfactory "intellectual" basis on which to ask people to identify with most industrial enterprises.
There is no principle or ideological satisfaction involved in making cars or plucking chickens. In this situation a value system that allows direct emotional attachment to place of work is better.
It is in this context that we can go back to our earlier Fig. 1. Already it should be clear that its basic fallacy is to equate universalism with rationality.
It should be equated to rationalism-the searching after principles which one believes are rational which is a very different thing.
As we have already seen, the emotional, particularistic approach can also show a remarkable rationality at times, with its ability to tap group energies or approach situations pragmatically. It has the logic of non-logic, as the Japanese sometimes put it.
Obviously, too much of the particularistic approach is not likely to help growth. Tribes may enjoy good human relations and cooperation, but unless they have some principles-contract, organization and technology-they will remain tribes.
The ideal, perhaps, is a balance of the two. The Japanese with their ability to retain particularistic values while importing outside ideas and scientific concepts may come closer to this than many of the rest of us.
If we go too far in our pursuit of principles and ideologies, we tend to look down on the emotional/practical even when it is clearly needed. We tend to slip into dogmatism. So too much universalism, like too much particularism, can be a bad thing.
This redefinition of universalism in turn allows us to revise our earlier hierarchy of groups. Instead of trying to classify them according to whether they are "rational," we should simply look at the extent to which they are based on principles rather than people, on attributes rather than location.
On this basis it should be clear that clan (extended family) as found in China, and caste as found in India, are highly univeralistic groups. They are based on strict attributes, endorsed by proud ideologies and bound together by firm principles.
They do not rely on emotional interaction by members. In the same way, issue groups and moves for regional autonomy in advanced societies also come near the top of the universalistic scale, as I have defined it. So too does class, since it is based on attributes rather than location.
Nation, however, is a more intermediate group; as practiced in Japan at least, physical location and emotional interaction are more important than cultural attribute or ideology.
On the particularistic side of the scale there is a clear hierarchy of location-based groups. It begins with family/tribe and continues up through village and feudal fief until it reaches its natural successor-the enterprise.
(As some have pointed out, the Japanese enterprise often preserves not only the attitudes and structure but even the very terminology of the Tokugawa han bureaucracy.)
Figure 2 shows the revised situation. Keeping N in its original position relative
to J1 (but expanding it somewhat), we move I, C and S horizontally to new positions
at I, C1 and S,.
0T1 is the logical candidate to replace OT, confirming empirically what I have already argued in the case of Japan-that optimum growth (Y) comes when societies can combine the emotional with the intellectual.
It also suggests that the problem for societies with long, post-feudal civilizations is not that they are too "backward" to accept industrialization, but that they are too "advanced." Their attachment to the principled approach makes it hard for them to attach to something as unprincipled as the industrial enterprise.
The main discovery is that Japan and the Western nations may be much closer psychologically to each other than they realized. We have a neat explanation for the "datsu Ajia" or "forsake Asia" (to embrace Europe) trend in Japanese thinking.
In particular, we may be able to explain the strange affinity between the Japanese and the Germans, the last of the European peoples to graduate from semi-feudalism.
This in turn leads to another question: if J1 and N remain relatively close, why does a large gap exist between Japanese and Western management techniques? Even if there is a gap, why should we assume that both of us have to remain forever on our respective sides of Y?
In many respects the Japanese and Western psychologies may in fact be closer than most realize, for example in the grassroots vitality to our societies and the aggressiveness of our wars.
When it comes to organizing small groups such as nuclear family, fighting group or work cell we Westerners can be almost as ready as the Japanese to cast aside formal principles and to operate in terms of direct needs or instincts.
It is only when we try to organize larger groups that we change. Here we see a choice between instincts and principles and the bias of our value system clearly favours the latter. So our societies have all moved beyond Y, unlike Japan whose value system remains biassed in the opposite direction.
More importantly, most of the educated members of our societies want to move even further to the right of the Y apex. They still see the world in terms of the curve OT. They see the greater "intellectualization" of our societies as progress.
As a result bureaucracies strengthen, planners and ideologues meddle, law courts expand, talented men turn further away from employment in manufacturing, class divisions persist, regional autonomy is sought as a matter of principle, trade unions become even more finely demarcated (the caste-isation of our societies, it seems).
In short, we contract the "British disease." We are firmly locked into OT rather than OT, despite, or rather because of, the prowess of our intellectualism.
Once again it is the exception that could prove the rule. An aspect of scientific management is the demand objectively to determine reasons for falling productivity.
Many in the West are now coming to realize, quite independently of the Japanese example, that a major problem is the lack of emotional work identification on the part of the employees. In other words, they realize we are on the wrong side of Y.
The result is the many experiments in "worker involvement," most of which bear a remarkable resemblance to what has long been practised in Japan.
Some stress worker participation in decision or management. Some prefer to divide the enterprise into small work groups. Some emphasize Japanese-style benefits and familystyle concern for employees. Most try to wean workers away from craft unions.
In this area at least, we are trying to move back from N to something closer to J1.
It is not an easy process. In the first place it is often strongly opposed by the more radical and intellectual in our midst. They see it, not incorrectly, as a return to feudalism and paternalism.
Secondly we lack the complex rules and framework of emotional rights and obligation developed by the Japanese over their long history. To offer lifelong employment to workers is meaningless without the concept of an emotional obligation-on or giri-to the enterprise in return.
Breaking enterprises into small groups can be dangerous if we do not have the Japanese emotional techinques for getting those groups to cooperate. We end up with the worst of both worlds.
One alternative is to gain a semi-intellectual level of attribute involvement through the creation of a company "religion" as we find with some U.S. companies, e.g. IBM or Texas Instruments. That is probably something that only large and successful companies can achieve.
Another example to follow may be provided by Japanese subsidiaries overseas, some of which have been surprisingly successful. Attention to worker welfare is appreciated, especially in smaller, non-unionized enterprises in Western societies.
So too are efforts to remove class or status distinctions by requiring all employees to wear identical uniforms and eat in the same facilities.
In Southeast Asia workers are said to like the family-style atmosphere created in some Japanese enterprises.
One problem in Asia is the recruitment of educated staff, especially those of Indian and Chinese origin. They are said to resent the lack of merit promotion and the attempts to make them integrate into, the cloying family-style atmosphere of the enterprise.
Most of the best graduates are said to prefer the "dryer" approach of US and UK firms. It is a serious problem, since without a constant influx of young, vigorous, talented staff the Japanese management approach quickly withers.
A similar problem will, I believe, start to emerge with Japanese enterprises in the West. The gap between particularistic and universalistic value systems cannot be easily bridged.