Peter Payne writes, "One interesting social concept I see at work a lot in Japan is the idea of 'gaman,' which means to endure or to tolerate something that's difficult to bear. The idea that is that if there's something you don't like around you, it's better to endure it stoically in an act of self-sacrifice rather than act immediately to change it. We see this every day: my wife and I will go to a restaurant that's much too cold, yet no one speaks up to ask the staff to turn the air conditioning down, preferring instead to tolerate the unpleasant situation. [...] Gaman is something that parents strive to teach to their kids at an early age here, since there are many situations when children need these skills here. The idea of an employee sacrificing himself for the good of his company or of a wife looking the other way when her husband has an affair are linked to this concept. There's a phrase the Japanese use quite often which reflects this tendency to endure something rather than change it: sho ga nai (also shikata ga nai), which means 'It can't be helped.'"
Wow. I was rather appalled when I first read that. How can you run a successful company when the employees are conditioned not to speak up about what's broken? How do you prevent embezzling when the accountants are conditioned to ignore rather than investigate or dispute discrepancies in the books? A dictatorial boss might see this as a utopian situation where drones perform their work with no questions asked, but that just wouldn't fly with me and my team. My employees' opinions are critical to my decision making process. I rely on them to fill-in the gaps of my knowledge and experience and to speak-up when they don't like something. However, Japan has certainly produced a plethora of successful technology companies, so I'm probably missing a piece of this puzzle. Would anybody care to clue me in?