For my final class at Fuller, I am studying leadership. Naturally, one of the books we are reading is by Peter Drucker, the father of modern management theory. In his book, Managing the Non-Profit Organization, he has this to say about the Japanese perspective on strategies for improvement.
In this county, in particular, we usually underplay the strategy of doing better what we already do well. This hit me the first time I went to Japan, when they were just beginning their meteoritic rise. I looked for innovation strategies and there weren’t any. But every place – whether university, business, or government agency – had a clear strategy for improving. They don’t talk innovation. They ask, How do we do better, what we are already doing? It may be something very mundane, like sweeping the floor. Or it may be a very major change. The focus is always on improving the product, improving the process, improving the way we work, the way we train. And you need a continuing strategy for doing so. (p. 60)
I have heard this kind of thing said about other Southeast Asian countries as well, and I think it is very true. I think it represents a virtue we do not appreciate enough in the West, a mandate to be perpetually improving.
Additionally I think it coincides well with a Christian perspective on work and vocation. If we are/should be, doing all we do to the glory of God, we would never want to short change our Creator. If we could possibly do it better, we should want to, not that I do, but we should.
And if worshiping our Creator wasn’t enough of a reason, the quality of Japanese cars for instance, should be a motivating factor. Perpetual improvement is a winning business and non-profit strategy. We can be fairly certain that when a Japanese vehicle assembly line worker sees something wrong, even if it isn’t in his area of responsibility, he sees to it that it is fixed, more often than his American counter part. And now that many Japanese firms are building their cars over here, it appears they are successfully transferring those ethos to the new factories state side.