Contact Information

I want to share with you about Japan's five important pivots. For those of you who have been to Japan with me, you’ve heard me articulate-this story before, but I never fully developed a deep understanding of what really transpired until now.

I observed that there are five notable pivots in Japan's history:

  1. Commodore Perry came ashore in Japan and demanded they open the country.
  2. Emperor Maji opened Japan to Western ideas and adopted Western principles. Japan quickly became very successful, which led to the 3rd pivot.
  3. The militarization of Imperial Japan and their defeat in WWII.
  4. World War II ended and with the US occupation and General MacArthur Japan adopted Western ideas on quality and democratic governance.
  5. Japan’s fifth pivot is a $320 billion military buildup and rearmament due to the threat from China.

Why do I bring all this up? I've analyzed this and wondered why Japan is so successful. What has been “Japan’s Success Recipe”? What I have observed is there is a distinct pattern. This is my Theory, and I want to share it with you. It may help you develop your Success Recipe.

Japan has repeated is 3 observable steps.

- Survival
- Enlightenment
- Practice

When Perry came ashore, they needed to open up the country; otherwise, they'd be colonized or taken over by some Western or European Power. They pivoted to fall on survival mode.

Japan opened the country, and Emperor Maji sent the top scholars, intellectuals, and teachers on a two-year exploratory mission to learn Western principles and ideas. On this mission, they became enlightened about Western ideas of science, engineering, and governance.

They came back from the study mission, and they put together a plan. Collectively, the country started practicing these ideas, and they modernized their infrastructure, manufacturing, and thinking. We know this from the story of Sakichi Toyoda, who learned much from the West and then deliberately started practicing these ideas. Sakichi's enlightenment and understanding led to the birth of one of the most significant companies in the world: The Toyota Motor Company.

- Survival
- Enlightenment
- Practice

This seems to be the same pattern when Japan went from closed to open. Now let's look at World War II; the same thing happened again:

- Survival
- Enlightenment
- Practice

Japan was destroyed, and once again they were focused on Survival. Indeed, a large majority of the population was starving, and General MacArthur was faced with the daunting problem of tens of millions of people dying.

MacArthur brought in engineers and scientists from the United States to help rebuild Japan, teaching the Japanese principles of quality and a democratic form of government.

Edwards Deming came and spoke to the engineers and scientists of Japan, and they became enlightened.They didn't just become enlightened, they started practicing these principles. The Founder of Sony said when he heard Deming speak, it was a semi-religious experience, and he never thought the same way again.

Sony, along with thousands of other Japanese companies, started practicing and focusing on Quality.

The same pattern was repeated in World War II.

- Survival
- Enlightenment
- Practice
When I reflect on my success recipe, it is similar to Japan’s, with a tiny twist.

- Not satisfied
- Enlightened
- Practice

My story and my pivot are a little funny when I think about it. I woke up in the morning, and I looked in the mirror, and was not satisfied at all with the way I looked at 55. I was overweight and frankly disgusted with the guy staring back at me. For you, I and most people in the world, we have access to the necessities, so we're not in survival mode. It's difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of what the Japanese were feeling on both of these pivotal historical events. So I thought to myself, what are the fundamental ingredients or recipe that creates a lasting transformation? For me, and I think for many others, what begins the transformation process is not being satisfied and the feeling like you're lacking. The next step is to start searching. How do you change the outcome?

I read the book Eat Move Sleep, and then I started practicing precisely what the author suggested:

- 10,000 steps a day
- Getting sugar out of my diet
- Eating real food
- Getting eight hours of sleep

The results were astounding. In less than a year, I transformed myself because I adhered to this simple recipe:

- Not satisfied
- Enlightenment
- Practice

I wasn't satisfied; I was disgusted at looking at myself in the mirror, but than I became enlightened. I read a book, and then I started practicing it daily.

Through daily Kaizen improvements and daily tweaking, I changed my entire Health outcome. So this is my success recipe: what would your success recipe be? The question all of us should be asking is, "Am I satisfied?"

Or “Am I deeply unsatisfied?"

If you come to Japan, you might come here and be enlightened and even marvel at how well-organized Japan is and how well it functions compared to any other country in the world. However, if you go back and say ah, things are pretty good, why should I work that hard, why should I put that much effort into it? I can go to the grocery store; I have money in the bank; I can go on nice vacations; I drive a nice car; I have nice clothes, a lovely family, a nice yard, and a nice house. I have a nice Everything!

Then, you're satisfied, there's no need to change and confront your inefficiencies and waste. For God's sake, don't challenge your erroneous thinking, but if there is a remote chance, you're not satisfied, and you become enlightened, and you start practicing daily Kaizen, watch out because this is the magical Alchemy!

This is the recipe for your success on your lean Journey. If you don't do any one of those steps. If you do two of them and omit one, I can pretty much guarantee you're not going to get the outcome you want. Why can I say this so emphatically? Because I work with people all over the world and I listen to their stories and I listen to their failures. But most of all, I listened very carefully to the successful ones and their patterns. It's a historical pattern, as I articulated regarding Japan, and it's a current-day pattern. So I say, don't even waste your time on starting a lean journey or starting any transformation; regardless of what it is you're trying to change if you're not aware of the necessary steps to get the outcome you desire. Once I understood the pattern, it was much easier for me to execute consistently and get a consequential outcome. So, with this newfound understanding, I'm very clear with the people who come to Japan with me, both before they get there and when they get there, that you might as well not waste your money and time and just go home if you’re satisfied, If you're truly not satisfied with your current situation, then You must go home and start doing the hard work.

- Daily Kaizen
- Daily morning meetings
- Daily 3 S-ing
- Daily Improvement videos
- Daily inspiring and encouraging and leading your team

And you must do all this with passion and total resolve.

I make these comments as someone who's been to 122 countries. I have seen so much and had so much time to Muse and analyze what every other country in the world is doing and how it differs from Japan.

Japan got three things right regarding their enlistment, they got the politics right: after World War II, they adopted democracy. They got the economics right: they adopted a free market system. The third thing they got right, and most cultures are missing sorely is they got the education system right. They educate their children in the fundamentals, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

These are basic to navigating life and having the essential building blocks to be successful. They're not caught up in a woke agenda, but they're focused on the basics. You can see it when you come to Japan. If you've been to Japan with me, you know, because I take you to schools. You see what's going on there? They’re practicing good habits, like teamwork, cleaning the school together, studying with diligence and respect for elders.

Japan got the politics right, they got the economics right, and they got the education right. As a result, they've got the magical Alchemy, and that's why when we all come to Japan, we look back and say WOW, how did they do this? I've been to many other Asian countries, whether it be Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, or Burma, and every one of those countries is demonstrably different from Japan. Why is Japan so different, yet they’re all Asian countries? Because Japan got the right recipe, they got it at a very high level, and they didn't deviate. The question is, have you got the magical Alchemy? The magical Alchemy for me was I was not being satisfied, then I became enlightened, and then I started practicing. Japan did it in Spades.

Are you ready to create lasting transformation in your life and business?

add one

Paul Akers is a lean enthusiast, CEO of FastCap and author of 2 Second Lean. For the last 15 years, Paul has been promoting lean and helping people around the globe to apply continuous improvements to their own lives and organizations. Paul has many popular lean videos on YouTube.