A Black woman in glasses raises her arms in triumph in front of a computer.
by fizkez @iStock

Every country has experienced hardship, but Japan’s copious natural disasters and tumultuous cultural history have resulted in a people with a reputation for being completely unflappable. Japanese companies have achieved this same resilience through a unique construction of cultural pillars.

Let’s call it the Daruma-doll resilience framework.

Gaman, community, and monozukuri overlap to form harmony, adaptation, and socio-centric innovation.
Daruma illustration from ochikosan @ iStock

The Daruma doll: red, squat, and weighted to spring upright when tilted over. Also the perfect metaphor for how Japanese companies face challenging times. We could all use a little extra resilience in challenging times—and what could be more challenging than the sweeping global restrictions imposed by COVID-19?

The crisis response common among Japanese companies suggests that the Daruma-doll resilience framework has three components: monozukuri (craftsmanship), community spirit, and gaman (stoicism).

Monozukuri keeps your eyes on impact.

Monozukuri culture dates back to traditional Japanese puppets, called karakuri. They were so detailed in their mechanics that they’re considered an early forerunner of Japanese robots.

Today, monozukuri is a core philosophy of many Japanese manufacturers, including Toyota, Honda, Sony, and Toshiba. It can be translated as “the act of making things.” This is more than mere craftsmanship, as the nuance of monozukuri is more focused on the thing being manufactured than the craftsman themselves

Additionally, as BusinessToday explains, “Monozukuri underlines that manufacturing should be in harmony with nature and should be of value to the society.”

In this way, monozukuri reminds us to consider impact. What was affected during the creation of a product or service? Were the labor and/or products ethically sourced? How will a product or service change the lives in our community, customers or not?

In more recent generations, Japan’s monozukuri has been driven by robotics. Though Japan has continuously maintained its position as the world’s top exporter of industrial robots, the influence doesn’t end at industry. Societal demand has been the driving force for research and development of disaster-response robots used for rescuing and supporting those affected by large-scale disasters.

In the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, Mitsubishi Heavy Industry developed the MEISTeR, a remote-controlled robot, to decontaminate the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and remove obstacles in harsh conditions.

Pepper, a short white robot, helps out at a cafe in Tokyo.
Pepper helps out in a Tokyo cafe. Photo by chinnian @flickr

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Softbank Robotics introduced two types of robot, Pepper and Whiz, to serve mildly sick coronavirus patients at hotels rented by Tokyo’s metropolitan government.

And when all levels of school across Japan closed temporarily due to COVID-19, one Japanese startup, Unirobot, unveiled educational robots that can play as AI homeschool teachers. COVID-19 has sped up the advancement of Society 5.0, Japan’s society-focused alternative to many countries’ industry-driven innovation plans.

Monozukuri does not stop at direct problem-response solutions. It goes one step further to promote harmony when and where society needs it most. Businesses seeking resilience should take note.

Community is about creating shared value.

After the Great Tohoku earthquake in 2011, companies began reaching out and committing to change beyond their obvious scope of responsibility. Toyota actualized its “community first” commitment by establishing power-sharing networks to aid local communities of Miyagi Prefecture. Uniqlo, a fast-fashion company, also announced its intent to revitalize communities in the Tohoku region, helping them regain independence. GLOBIS University launched its Sendai campus with the aim to bring top quality business education to the region in addition to launching KIBOW, a non-profit designed to revitalize hard-hit Tohoku areas.

Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we again see the community spirit at the heart of many Japanese companies. Toyota has supported ventilator equipment production, repurposed vacant dormitories to help with patient overflow, and produced face masks for its employees. In addition to joining hands with healthcare organizations to develop COVID-19 testing kits, Rakuten Travel offered 110,000 rooms for quarantine patients in Japan, and Rakuten ABCmouse is providing free online educational contents for Japanese students.

The examples above should not be seen as charity. The Daruma-doll resilience framework is built on the understanding that companies are an extension of their local communities. Survival of the company depends on its harmony with society. By contributing to society during dark times, companies benefit from business returns: increased reputation, a larger talent pool, and a bigger consumer base. Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter calls this process “creating shared value.”

Stoicism is about agility and adaptability

Community and gaman together form the concept of harmony, or wa in Japanese. At its core, wa expands the meaning of personal endurance to the greater idea of making personal sacrifice for the sake of the endurance of the whole community.

Moreover, the combination of gaman and monozukuri allows a society to renew itself after every calamity by incorporating fresh and creative approaches. 

Kuroneko bicycle delivery basket on the streets of Japan.
Kuroneko has adapted its delivery methods to combat COVID-19. Photo by halfrain @flickr

Due to COVID-19, cosmetics maker Shiseido quickly adapted to sell medical hand sanitizer. Kuroneko Yamato, Japan’s biggest delivery company, responded to social distancing by promoting the use of Pick Up or Drop Off (PUDO) stations to receive parcels, as well as contact-free procedures through customers’ smartphones. These measures came with a gaman acceptance that workload and operational costs were likely to increase.

This endure-and-adapt mindset isn’t just for large companies, either. COVID-19 heavily hit the tourism industry worldwide, and most Japanese traditional hotels and hot spring towns have been forced to close. However, instead of surrendering, owners in Arima (a hot spring town in Hyogo Prefecture) began offering VR hot spring experiences. Through the meditative effect of the VR videos, say a group of Japanese hot spring owners via press release, “hot springs can help to heal people in quarantine around the world, as well as increase the efficacy of the quarantine.”

Cool acceptance of a challenging situation is the first step needed to quickly adapt. In this way, gaman is the driving force behind the Daruma-doll framework.

The Daruma-doll framework is about putting it all together.

The fight against COVID-19 is still ongoing, and the future undoubtedly holds more unknowns. In times like these, it’s important for companies to seek new inspiration for agility and survival.

The Daruma-doll resilience framework can help businesses everywhere harmonize with their communities, swiftly adapt to changes, and focus on innovations that serve society. Together, the three pillars of monozukuri, community spirit, and gaman can increase the longevity of any business, team, or project.

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