CHAPTER 2The Myth of Uniqueness

As leaders, we are sometimes our own worst enemies when it comes to creating refraction layers or allowing them to persist as a result of mistaken assumptions, based on which we make decisions for action, or in many cases inaction. In Japan, the most frequent refraction‐layer‐generating, mistaken assumption I encounter centers around so‐called “uniqueness” of the Japanese. And for that matter, I have heard the same often of Americans, English, Germans, French, Australians, Singaporeans, Chinese Koreans, and the people of countries around the world about which similar assertions can be, and often are, made. However, it is has been my experience that people are far more similar than dissimilar where it counts, and uniqueness is more often an excuse for, rather than a cause of, failure to change.

Many CEOs I meet, whether Japanese or not, assume that the Japanese are somehow unique among humans. I frequently hear CEOs say that the problem is Japanese culture, and that the Japanese are somehow so different that methods used in other countries simply don't work here. Some CEOs claim they are helpless in the face of resistance to change among mid‐level managers due to the national culture of Japan. However, this is simply not the case. Yet when they encounter a problem in changing the business in some way, as all senior leaders inevitably do, Japanese culture often becomes a rationalization for the failure to effectively implement the change, an excuse ...

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