End of Year Greetings 2020


What’s the difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday? As I checked them on Wikipedia, the former came into use in 70’s; the latter was just born in 2005. I feel both are fast spreading also in Japan in these few years. Now that the main sales battlefield is online, they are synonym to me. Actually, in the U.S., Black Friday 2020 online sales gained more than 20% on 2019, while store traffic was down by more than 50%. Coupled with the COVID pandemic, a battle for online sales becomes more severe. In other words, companies are now competing for people’s time online. This is not somebody else’s issue. I very well know I’m a part of the competition. Today, let me explain the logic and strategy behind this blog.

In most cases, the articles of the blog start with my personal question, awareness, or daily events. Secondly, some famous theory, quote, or topic comes up in relation to the preceding episode. Finally, I introduce ourselves or a subject closely related to ourselves, like the culture of Hokkaido or Japan, associating it with the above social and sometimes academic information. I go a long way around like this to the main purpose — the introduction of ourselves. It’s always tough to think of themes associated with ourselves in conclusion. Believe it or not, it’s for something more than attracting and keeping people’s interest.

As I was writing in the first paragraph, we are competing for people’s time online. If I have to take it anyway, I don’t want to waste it. My priority is always put on whether the content is informative, not whether our brand is well-expressed, in order to consequently raise brand awareness. I’ve been cautioning myself as we can easily post information in the modern world of IT.

I’m wrapping up 2020 with this inside story. It has been about six months since we started the blog. Fortunately, we have more and more page views, visitors, and likes these days. In order to make it more informative, I’ll read many books during the New Year holidays and be back here. Thank you very much, and have a great new year!

Photo Credit: https://www.trtworld.com/business/amazon-black-friday-and-cyber-monday-2020-biggest-online-sales-ever-41958


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Empathy Is the Key to Survival


In Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort sounded off “I’ve been telling you guys not to take no for an answer, to keep pushing, to not hang up the phone ‘til you get what you want.” In The Founder, Dick McDonald regretted making a business partnership with Ray Kroc, saying “There’s a wolf in the hen house.” The business world is a battle field where wolves are ruthlessly killing each other. Many people would think like that. At least I did. When I worked at the Ministry of Finance, what unfolded right before my eyes was exactly that. One mistake can lead to the end of a career. The mistakes of others taste like honey. As naturally imagining the same dramas would happen in Silicon Valley, I was surprised by a book written by Stanford University online high school principal (who is Japanese, by the way). According to him, many IT giants in Silicon Valley, like Tim Cook (CEO of Apple), Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), and Mike Krieger (ex-CTO of Instagram) unanimously said “What is most important to survive in the business world is empathy to others.”

Conde House Australia, exterior design scheduled to be completed soon!

While expanding our business to the international markets, I’ve been meeting many business owners in many countries. Indeed, as the book said, they are way far from greedy wolves. The one who has most impressed me is the owner of our Australian dealer. When we first met, he was still in the middle of his 30’s and just started up his furniture-retailing business. We see entrepreneurs are very hungry, but he was surprisingly different from such a general image. He was (is even now, of course) really modest, humble, and empathetic. After the first meeting with him, our president, expressing a little concern about his inexperience in luxury furniture business, said to me “I think it must be fun to grow together with him.” They seemed to have empathy to each other (between entrepreneurs). As more than five years have already passed since then, the Australian dealer is now one of our main pillars in the international markets. This month, he relocated and opened a shop on Swan Street in Melbourne. Please visit and see him (and our products) if you go (are) there.

Photo Credit: https://www.macleans.ca/economy/welcome-to-the-era-of-woke-capitalism/


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


He Is Rich That Few Wants


In these past few years, I’ve come to see many conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in any place around the world. I don’t know the price range of those restaurants overseas. In Japan, conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are thought to be cheap, like fast food restaurants. About 30 years ago, sushi was still a special treat even for Japanese people. It was only a birthday and the last day of the year when I could eat sushi in my childhood. It’s not only about food. I believe you can think of many other examples similar to this, but do you know how they happen? Because we get rich? Due to productivity improvement? They may be partially correct and wrong. I believe the main reason would be international division of labor (IDOL) that will come back to bite us.

If you’re interested in economics, the name of an economist would come up when you hear IDOL. Yes, it’s David Ricardo. He said the world would be richer by each country specializing and exporting its comparatively advantageous products. It sounds good but actually looks (to me) like international competition for cheap labor. I once worked for a Japanese fishery company. The company has five vessels to take tuna. The number of Japanese crews was less than half, and said to become less and less. This is one of the main reasons why the price of sushi comes down.

Korento Dining Armchair

Today, I didn’t mean to make a judgement on IDOL, but just want to pose a simple question: if we should aim to be richer. Of course, poverty must be eradicated from the world, but we should be satisfied in moderation. I felt I was the happiest kid in the world when eating sushi on my birthday and New Year’s Eve. In exchange for an environment where we can eat sushi any time, we have lost a special treat and real sushi chefs. I believe it is human wisdom to leave special things as they are. Our furniture is being driven out from the market by mass-produced products. I can’t numerically prove the comparative advantage of our products, but can ensure they give you a special time and place.

Photo Credit: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-vanishing-art-of-sushi/


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Worker Ant Theory


Did you know that viruses are not organisms? The super-simple definition of an organism is an object consisting of a cell (cells) and self-replicating. In other words, viruses are a good counter-example to organisms. I learned it only after the COVID pandemic started, and the above definition is just my fake interpretation, though. The point is it seems much more difficult to define an organism than we imagine. Now, can you guess how this story is related to the title of this article? When I learned this surprising fact, some counter-example came up in my mind. Opposite to viruses, something that is never thought to be but behaves like an organism. It’s an organization, a group of people. As some of you may have already noticed, it is especially about a “teal organization” proposed by Frederic Laloux.

His theory was really an eye-opener to me. A group of people gets to behave like an organism, and that reminded me of the Worker Ant Theory (we finally got to here). A swarm of ants consists of a queen, a few drones, and the majority of worker ants. The theory says worker ants are divided to 20% of hard workers, 60% of normal workers, and 20% of lazy workers (against its name). Even if only hard-worker ants are picked out to make a swarm, 20% of them will become lazy soon. This is considered to be a rule to make a swarm resilient by keeping surplus labor for emergency. A swarm of ants functions as one organism rather than a group of individuals.

https://www.condehouse.co.jp/?lng=ja_en

According to the Worker Ant Theory, the same thing happens in most companies. Only 20% of people (including me, of course, probably, maybe, hopefully) work hard. What about our company? As far as I can see, all the production staff seems to work hard. There are many KAIZEN boards put on the walls all over the factory. They always measure processing times and have regular meetings for productivity improvement. I gradually get worried about our resilience. In order to prepare for a future emergency case, I probably should be lazy.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


The Restoration of Human Communication


Until last year, before the COVID pandemic, I traveled around the world and saw many people on business. Now, my life (work) style has changed significantly. I just go to work and straight back home. Although people around me would feel the same way, I’m fed up with seeing the same faces at work and home every day. This big change has told me a lot. How much I like my past life (work) style, even though that was always a series of all-night trips. How much important changes and communication with people are to me. I may ask too much for life, but we social animals are not satisfied only with food and drink. Would you agree? If yes, direct marketing is highly recommended for you.

In my definition, the key point of direct marketing is two-way communication, which, I think, makes it completely different from other framework. In most cases, sellers deliver advertising messages to an unspecified large number of public, while direct marketing carefully tunes messages according to customers. The famous example is the phot album of past mobile phones by Soft Bank (No. 3 mobile carrier in Japan). They researched mobile phones a customer has used so far and collected the photos of mobile phones in one album for each customer. Their message made me cry: “Let’s add a new page to the album with us.”

Conde House Philippines

It’s not good in efficiency and takes longer before bearing fruits, but it more than makes up for such disadvantages. We can communicate closely with customers! The COVID pandemic has been doing economic damage to all of us. Among our overseas partners, the Philippines dealer has suffered heaviest from an additional unfortunate accident. I just wanted to do something for them and sent direct messages via Facebook to a number of architects and interior designers in the Philippines. Totally different from Soft Bank, that was just a letter of appeal for help, but surprisingly enough, some of them sent back kind messages. I don’t think what I did produced huge results, but believe the kind replies would surely encourage them. Direct marketing is not a desk theory but the restoration of human communication.

Photo Reference: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2020/05/08/four-simple-ways-to-combat-the-loneliness-caused-by-covid-19/?sh=6c6d17214524


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.



Generalists vs Specialists


Koala are a specialist species, only feeding on the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/generalist-and-specialist-species/

This issue gets discussed more often these days because people get afraid that robots may take over human jobs in the near future. In Japan, the business world has been dominated by generalists for a long time, but the odds may become against them. The future of even specialists is not completely secured, though. Some business books say we need two specialized skills in order to compete robots in business, which sounds desperate especially to generalists like me. You’ve heard about the principle of 10000 hours, right? Malcolm Gladwell has written we must spend at least 10000 hours to become a true master of any skill. It seems almost impossible for a generalist to aim for a specialist from today. Can we (generalists) escape this certain death?

While struggling in despair, I found a book with an encouraging title – Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. To summarize the author’s point of view, a complex world needs generalists who can zoom out and look at larger outcomes we should really care about. The more complex the world gets, the more generalists we need. It’s encouraging, isn’t it? Generalists seem to be able to coexist with robots somehow.

Furniture production consists of some processes: milling, curving, assembling, polishing, painting, upholstering, etc. In the past, for the development of specialists of each process, staff reshuffling was rare, but now we often make it. The original purpose was to make the production team resilient, but it seems we have had much more to gain. For example, I was impressed when hearing some craftsman said “After being assigned in the new division, I found the process I had believed best was not good enough.” I know our craftspeople are still specialists in a narrow sense, but we can see the value of generalists in here anyhow. In the end, let me share the words that encourage all the generalists in the world: A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Memory Glorification


When I was a kid, my father often took me to rivers, lakes, etc. to fish, one of which is unforgettable. It was a small river; some small waterfalls were aligned in a row; I fished a lot! Oddly enough, my father always says he doesn’t know such a place. To make matters worse, he says I’ve never fished a lot. Since then, I’ve been interested in memory glorification. I know brain science has already found out its structure that is very simple: we make minor changes every time recalling memories; we recall good memories more frequently because feeling good; good memories change more and better as a consequence. That makes sense but is just boring (and difficult to be associated with our promotion), and so, let me share my own theory.

We unconsciously recognize every event happening in our lives is non-reproducible, which, I personally think, would be the reason of our memory glorification. For example, suppose you really enjoy food at some restaurant; I guess it’d not be only because of the food quality, but other factors also influence your good impression, such as your physical condition, conversation with your companion, the clean and stylish interior of the restaurant, etc. Good events can be said to be miracles resulted from a set of accidents, and we adorably polish up memories of such good events because we unconsciously know they can never be reproduced in exactly the same situation.

In a sense, our products are non-reproducible because no wood materials are the same. A good example is our tables. The surface of the top board is one and only, expressive, and special to you. Due to this character unique to natural material, we can’t provide exactly the same one as what you see in person at a shop, but I would be glad if you could cherish what you get because it is going to be glorified the same as good memories.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Knowledge Speaks – Wisdom Listens


If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would you choose? It may sound stupid but is a very common question in Japan, asked among friends like, if you could only eat it for the rest of your life, would it be curry or ramen? Anyway, it’s an easy question for me. “Stand by Me” is it, but today’s article is not about the movie itself but about the phrase in the original story by Stephen King, which has since been a compass in my life, though I don’t remember it word by word. He wrote like: good stories disappear due to a lack of good listeners not tellers.

Have you ever discovered in a conversation a new side of even a long-standing friend? Surprised at his/her story you never imagined to listen to from him/her? Every time I’ve experienced such a moment, I get uneasy, wondering if I might not have been a good listener. All the people have their own good stories, and it’s listeners’ responsibility to draw them out. What I’m scared of about this issue is we can never recognize our mistakes, though the responsibility is huge. If there’re no good listeners, people just hold their tongue and carry good stories together to their graves.

As it may sound a little cheesy, it is often said that our craftspeople have to listen to the voice of wood especially when joining wood pieces together. A good example is the production of solid wood table top boards. Most of them consist of multiple wood pieces, and our craftspeople carefully decide the alignment of them. First, I thought it was for design (for the beautiful combination of grain patterns), but later learned it was for more than that. Our craftspeople closely observe wood pieces (earnestly listen to the voice of wood pieces) and finely adjusted the alignment of them so that top boards get beautiful, stable, and sturdy. In Stephen King’s phrase, good furniture appears due to good listeners (craftspeople).


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.