One day, through a student-initiated club activity at GLOBIS University, I had the opportunity to speak with a representative from Panasonic who was responsible for the recall of defective oil fan heaters in Hokkaido and Tohoku. Panasonic employees had urgently carried out door-to-door checks across all neighborhoods in spite of a winter storm.
As he relayed the story, I wondered if employees at another company would have acted with the same amount of urgency?
Essentials for management according to Konosuke Matsushita
Konosuke Matsushita founded and developed Panasonic into one of Japan’s most prominent electronics companies in a single generation. He is highly regarded for his work, not just in Japan, but also in the United States. Harvard Business School professor emeritus John Kotter described him as “the 20th century’s most remarkable leader.”
In his book, Takashi Nakajima recalls a time when Matsushita answered a question during a lecture:
“If you had to name one concept that is most important for management, what would it be?”
Matsushita grumbled a bit, took some time to consider, and finally replied, “May I have more than an answer? Could it be two?”
The questioner agreed, and this was Matsushita’s response:
“A perspective of the universe and a perspective of humanity.”
Why would a perspective of the universe be necessary for management? Or a perspective of humanity?
The right principles are guided by the flow of the universe
A perspective of the universe is equal to understanding the construction or philosophic principles of the universe. What, then, are the philosophic principles of the universe? While there are many perspectives on this, I think that we can say this:
1) In the universe, something will manifest if it contributes to social harmony and progress
2) Ideas and reality are interconnected.
The universe will gently extend its supporting hand and encourage us if we take the right behaviors and the right actions that contribute to social harmony and progress. One might call this the “flow of the universe.” However, this flow is not always in just one direction. The universe itself is constantly circulating, but as a whole, it will support us if we can align our activities so that they contribute to social harmony and progress.
The actual meaning of contributing to social harmony and progress may change according to the maturity of society. During the rise of capitalism, for example, the universe flowed toward people who sought to maximize their wealth. As a result, wealth accumulation accelerated investments into industries that lead to greater global prosperity. However, as wealth became monopolized to the point of being excessive, there came a strong headwind from an aggravated society.
This could be one explanation for the rise of CSR activities and NPOs.
Imagine that a company is like a small yacht in the ocean. The flow of the universe encourages activities that contribute to social harmony and progress. If one can set sail according to this flow, the yacht will speed ahead. Furthermore, if management maintains a business philosophy and vision to contribute to social harmony and progress, and organizes the company’s actions along these thoughts, the yacht will find itself pulled along, bringing its vision into reality.
A rich perspective of humanity brings stakeholders together
A perspective of humanity refers to one’s way of thinking towards people. Matsushita recognized that humanity has an opportunity to harmonize with the universe.
Consider this: a company is formed not only by the vision of a leader, but rather by the actions of employees, by the cooperation of business partners, and by the support of customers.
Unlike machines, human beings have emotions and abilities which change with time and environment. Most people will find that their feelings are most calm and stable, and their skills most effectively utilized, when they are engaged in activities that contribute to social harmony and progress.
That is, when they are attuned to a perspective of the universe.
This brings us to the role of ki.
Ki is a spiritual energy that aligns with the flow of the universe, guiding right actions that contribute to social harmony and progress. Therefore, management that understands the universe perspective can bring much ki into a company.
In fact, the human body itself can be viewed as a “micro-universe.” In martial arts, one form of a micro-universe is created when the center of gravity is placed in the seika-tanden, just below the navel, and the individual stands in shizentai, a natural posture. The seika-tanden becomes the center of this micro-universe, where one’s inner and outer consciousness interact. In martial arts, this is called the “unoccupied state” and is recognized as the time when a person’s potential can be maximized.
When management achieves such a state, employees work harder, more business partners offer help, and more customers support the company.
Think back now to Panasonic’s defective fan heater. Every Panasonic advertisement issued an apology and announced the recall of its oil fan heaters. Employees concentrated on recalls, but the company’s sales maintained very high figures.
Of course, ki alone does not explain the success of Panasonic, but there is value in recognizing, as Matsushita did, the value of a perspective of the universe and a perspective of humanity.