The Shokunin Way

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The_autumn_leaves_covering_the_red_gate_outside_Tenryu-ji_Temple_#Kyoto_#Japan_at_Tenryū-ji Every year, my wife and I spent a week in Japan where we spent our time looking at product design, and understanding how the interfaces on different products there work. Watching documentaries such as “Jiro dreams of Sushi” and “The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams” provided me inspiration on why everything I do should have the attitude of Japanese craftsman, called the Shokunin way. Learning from my past failures while learning the skills for the next journey, I have adapted the Shokunin thinking into product and general management.

If you have watched both movies “Jiro dreams of Sushi” and “The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams“, you would observe that both Jiro and Hayao Miyazaki spent their daily life being brutally focused in doing the same thing in repetition daily and in perfection. Most people usually stopped at the repeating process but not spending time to think about the processes where they do their work. In Asia, from my observation, only the Japanese focus on perfection even in the simplest task. If you are in any part of Japan, any service professional are focused on their work and seek to ensure a great customer experience. You do not see it anywhere else in Asia. Not just being good at doing at what they do, the Japanese has actually innovated on the daily processes and built on top of what they do. That’s why we have the lean manufacturing process from Toyota which was subsequently used by Eric Ries and reframed it for startups to the lean startup process.

The shokunin model is pretty simple and I just quote someone here:

The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate

In the past few years as I am developing the set of skills for my next journey, I have adapted the shokunin into both product and general management skills. In my roles, I focus my thinking as a craftsman by being laser focused on the product and the task in management, and keep iterating and innovating while going thru the processes of building that product. A craftsman attitude can also be applied to general management where you lead people and if you are not convinced, just take a look at how Jiro and Miyazaki led their teams who take their work seriously every day.

In fact, I have applied this to my podcasting project: Analyse Asia. When I started Analyse Asia, I want to understand the problems faced by someone who wants to make their podcasts. I did not stop there. I want the sound quality of podcast to be high and also put efforts in making the product better after every episode. In fact, in each step of building the podcast which I have worked through about 42 episodes, I have started innovating to make my hobby more efficient and fun for myself. Through many iterations of working on the podcast from sourcing for guests to sending the podcast for distribution, I understand better the problems of being a podcaster and found a set of interesting problems which I might eventually plan for my next commercial venture. I seek perfection in what I want to do, and in this process, it also allowed me to develop a full stack approach to any business that I am thinking about even for my corporate day job.

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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist