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Sep 26, 2014

Deming's Kamikaze: Japan's Divine Wind

Deming's Kamikaze


By: Colin D. Baird

Surrendering to the Americans September 2nd 1945, shortly after the release of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  Emperor Hirohito-long on tradition and on pride--was about to send more shockwaves throughout Japanese culture.   New Year's Day 1946, the Emperor renounced his divinity. 

General MacArthur- referred to as “the American Emperor”-- advocated Hirohito improve the nation without losing the identity that made the people and cultural heritage of Japan so rich, and so unique. Only abolition of Imperialism, demilitarization, and increased humility and cooperation could make it possible.

Hirohito  then spoke to the nation. "We have to reaffirm the principles embodied in the Charter [Japan's constitution prior to the Potsdam Declaration- the Allied’s unconditional terms for surrender], and proceed unflinchingly towards elimination of misguided practices of the past, and keeping in close touch with the desires of the people, we will construct a new Japan through thoroughly being pacific, the officials and the people alike, attaining rich culture, and advancing the standard of living of the people."

Hirohito continued, "The ties between Us [the Emperor] and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world."

America: Winning The Destructive Battle, Losing The Cultural War

The industrial leadership principles used during WWII gave American employees a useful purpose at work and  simultaneously increased productivity rates. The principles were developed by American statistician, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. After the Japanese surrender, Deming’s techniques were shelved in America, and collected dust. America had already begun returning to a style of leadership better suited for the destruction of property rather than the preservation of life and the restoration of the human condition.

Deming certainly helped America win the battle, but was about to help them lose the war...

Sixty five percent of the buildings in Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima were destroyed. Japanese citizens used chop sticks to pick rice off the ground, and lived on 800 calories per day. Prospects for survival–let alone employment were bleak, and Japan’s industrial leadership needed assistance.  The Americans were there to help, and at the request of MacArthur and Japanese top management, Deming left for Japan.

 Deming, whose unique theories had once helped defeat Japan, was no longer their adversary; he would soon become their new economic Emperor. His improvement Kamikaze, [the Japanese word for Divine Wind] would reign terror throughout the American industrial complex.  It would extinguish Japanese command and control, and then sweep in the new industrial religion of Continuous Improvement. 

The winners from this Divine Providence? Japanese citizens and culture.  The losers?  American jobs, and executives whose leadership styles remain today anything but engaging.

With two in three employees disengaged from their jobs today, and a un-employment rate staggeringly high, a Deming like Kamikaze in America could be just the type of divinity we need to blow in to get our nation moving again. Isn't it time to surrender our leadership methods, or at least call for reinforcements?

Unlike Hirohito’s renunciation of his own  divinity, the divinity of the Deming principles remains pure heresy for American leadership. Unlike Hirohito who surrendered for the betterment of mankind, leaders in the states refuse to convert to Deming's principled approach to people, quality, and continuous process improvement.

America's next Emperors much be positive agents of change rather than destructively preaching their own purported divinity. Setting aside egos requires humility, and a constant commitment to improve our current methods of production and people. Both must go hand in hand for cultures to survive and prosper-lessons the industrialized Japanese learned long ago, but we refuse to.

As Hirohito said, “If the nation is firmly united in its resolve to face the present ordeal and to seek civilization consistently in peace, a bright future will undoubtedly be ours, not only for our country, but for the whole humanity… With more of this devotion should we now work towards love of mankind…We stand by the people and we wish always to share with them in their moments of joys and sorrows…  We trust that the people will rise to the occasion, and will strive courageously for the solution of their outstanding difficulties, and for the development of industry and culture.

An Emperor’s call to action?

“Acting upon a consciousness of aid and broad tolerance in their civic life, they [our citizens], will prove themselves worthy of their best tradition. By their supreme endeavors in that direction, they will be able to render their substantial contribution to the welfare and advancement of mankind…We expect Our people to join Us in all exertions looking to accomplishment of this great undertaking with an indomitable spirit.”

These inspirational words, ironically, were written by Americans occupying Japanese soil during the military occupation. They were translated into Japanese, and then given to the Emperor to create and inspire his country. This would unify them, and allow them to grow together as one nation.

There are eerie similarities between the effects of World War II, and today's American culture and business climate.  Hirohito's parting words remain haunting.  "The devastation of war inflicted upon our cities, the miseries of the destitute, the stagnation of trade, shortage of food, and the great and growing number of the unemployed are indeed heart-rending."

American leaders must begin to make every effort to alleviate our employee’s pain, while increasing their productivity. American employees and America as a whole stands to markedly gain from just such Divine Providence.