A Familiar View From a Familiar Land

I was deeply moved by the events in Japan over the last several days.  I have spent many weeks over several years in that country from my work supporting All Nippon Airways with Boeing.  I have also experienced several earthquakes in Japan, obviously nothing like the most recent.

Throughout many of my writings, I talk about the integration of of knowledge assets, the integration of markets, and the integration of communities.  Yet here I reflect that there is likely no country as tightly integrated as Japan.  This is the reason why they are so resilient and will arise successful despite any adversity that they encounter.

Several years ago, I was in downtown Tokyo during a magnitude 5.4 Earthquake.  The central subway loop closed down and the feeder trains kept pouring people into the station – the streets filled to standing room only.

As the account manager for All Nippon Airways, I was amazed at the astonishing reliability that they achieved with the aircraft fleet.  Reliable airplanes are essential because transportation is tightly integrated; if the plane did not leave on time, the trains would keep dropping people off at the airport and it would quickly fill up to, again, standing room only.

I have worked with dozens of Japanese engineers.  They are an amazing group in themselves – they design for two or three levels of fault tolerance in all of their decisions because when things go wrong in Japan, they go very wrong.  Their airplanes are impeccable throughout despite severe service requirement. Airplanes leave on time or they are replaced, but they always deliver on their promise of safety and security. Many of the buildings are sacrificial; meaning that they may may no longer be useful after a big quake, but they will not fall.  The train station may fill up, but the trains won’t crash.

This mindset has permiated into all of their products.  Where Americans may see obsessive compulsive drive to higher degrees of quality for no apparent reason, the Japanese see solutions to problems that don’t yet exist.  They take deep personal responsibility for failures that are two or three levels deep in unlikely probability.

It is not surprising that the casualty numbers so far, while deeply tragic, are not what one would expect given the magnitude of the event – the Earth was knocked off it’s Axis by this temblor, but the Japanese were not.

I extend my deepest condolences to my many friends and colleagues of Japan and stand ready to help in any way that I can.