Earlier this year, Norman Bodek, Author of the Harada Method and Creator of the Harada Method app, introduced me to the remarkable work and management philosophy of Dr. Kazuo Inamori. Dr. Inamori was the founder of Kyocera, a Japanese multinational ceramics and electronics manufacturer with revenue of 1.6 Trillion Japanese yen in 2018.
And in the recent past, Dr. Inamori led a stunning turnaround of a bankrupt Japan Airlines (JAL) through a human-centered approach that restored JAL to profitability in less than a year.
Dr. Inamori and his management philosophy may be one of the most remarkable stories and philosophies you never heard of — at least it was for me. Dr. Inamoi describes his philosophy this way:
The Kyocera Philosophy is a life philosophy that I acquired through experience. Its basis is “living in the right way as a human being.” Through the years, I have continued to encourage employees to follow this philosophy, because I believe it will make each employee happy while also making the company prosperous.
As I learned more about Dr. Inamori, I eagerly wanted to interview someone practicing his principles. That search led me to Nem Bajra, CEO at Calsoft Systems, Inc.
Nem has his own remarkable story that started in Nepal, where he was born the son of a Buddist priest. Nem’s passion for improving the lives of the people of Nepal led him from his home country of Nepal to Japan to study engineering. His journey next led him to America, where he founded Calsoft Systems with his wife in 1994. To learn more about Nem’s remarkable story, please read the journal article reprint in the Resources section included at the bottom of this page.
Please read my interview with Nem to discover how Dr. Inamori’s philosophies helped lead Nem to personal and business success.
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How can we create workplaces where every voice is heard and matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Nem Bajra: We have to start with our basic goodness and inherent wisdom as human beings. Then based on our inherent wisdom, we have to introduce principles that are designed to bring out our basic goodness. Our principles help us create a workplace where we can all express ourselves.
Companies without well-defined principles operate based on transactions. They make a specific product or provide a service, and in return, they get a certain amount of money. In that kind of company, they think of employees in the same way. The business hires employees for their labor and skill only. They think of business in terms of transactions. This distinction is the primary difference between what I learned from Dr. Inamori’s Kyocera philosophy that is principle-based versus what you will find in most business books.
Once we have adopted certain principles, then we need a way to practice them. By practice, I mean that we don’t just understand them intellectually, but we follow them in our everyday work.
When we practice principles from our heart, then certain natural wisdom appears. Many people call that culture. Each company develops its own culture. It’s kind of a process and the way they do business. It’s also the way we behave among ourselves and how we treat customers. So this becomes natural wisdom that arises in the culture and becomes the way we do business.
Many companies and management consultants try to introduce best practices. Best practices may be useful for specific companies, but it doesn’t mean they’re suitable for our own company. Our needs and capabilities might be different.
When we’re focused on our principles, we discover what matters most to us. We always remind ourselves of these principles, and then we practice them every day. Then out of that focus, we naturally see how we should do our work and treat each other.
When a business is transaction-based, there is always them and us. There are business owners, management, employees, and customers. There is still a big gap between them and us. And as long as the difference is there, nobody’s happy.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Nem: At Kyocera, Dr. Inamori introduced a concept called Amoeba Management. Amoeba Management is simply a small business unit. A business unit was defined by General Motors a long time ago. But an Amoeba business unit is different in the sense that it can be very small — even as few as two employees. This unit manages itself like a small business, where employees define their product, set their price, and manage their own accounting.
At Calsoft, we have ten Amoebas. One Amoeba focuses on the travel industry, but other Amoeba’s focus on manufacturing, distribution, and other industries. But in our travel Amoeba, this team of people focuses on providing software to the travel industry. They know the travel industry very well, so they can create software optimized for those people. They get their sense of fulfillment by using their talent to create software for a specific industry. They can see the impact they are making, so they become fully engaged.
It’s not like in large companies where you work on an assembly line 9-to-5 doing only a small part of a big product. You don’t see the impact you are making. But in an Amoeba, they know the value they create, so they are fully engaged. They know the value they create, so they are fully engaged. The key is full engagement. When they are engaged, we don’t need to tell them what to do.
One way I heard this is if a boss tells his employee to do something, and the employee does it just because the boss told him to do it, the success rate is about 25%. If the employee enjoys what the boss asks, and the employee accepts and believes it’s essential, the success rate goes up to about 55%. But if the employee asks the boss, “Boss, will you please allow me to do this? Then the success rate goes to about 90%. An Amoeba works like that. We don’t have to do anything special. The employees come up with their ideas, and they design the product. They know the market, and we provide all the logistics, funding, and training. We give them training on leadership. An amoeba always has a leader. It doesn’t matter if there are only two or three members. There is still a leader.
An Amoeba has two requirements. Number one is that whatever they do has to be economically viable. They can provide their members with a salary, or they can contribute their profit to the company. The second thing is leadership. The leadership has to take care of its members.
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What do people really lack and long for at work?
Nem: I believe people want to express their good true nature. Very often, when people go to the workplace, they are not allowed to be themselves. They are required to play specific roles. For example, they have to do things in a certain way, and that’s all. Or they have to reduce costs, and that’s all. They comply and do the work because they have to earn their livelihood.
But most workplaces don’t allow an employee to become a wholesome person. They are just using their time, skills, and knowledge. When they first get their job, they are very happy. They take pride in having a job with a big company, good income, and an excellent opportunity for promotion. But once they start working, they somehow feel something is lacking, and that means that they are not able to be themselves.
Most employees really don’t know what they want when they join our company either. They only know that what they want is a good job. They want to succeed. They want to make money. They want to do exciting work. That’s all they know because that’s what they have heard.
What Dr. Inamori said on this is that it’s not only the company’s responsibility to have its vision and mission clarified, but each individual should identify his or her own life purpose as well. Most people are not aware of their life purpose and inner voice. And so to me, that’s what they lack most.
It’s not that they don’t have an inner voice; it’s because they don’t pay attention to it. They are not aware of their life purpose. They only chase success, money, and position. Eventually, the more they succeed, the more miserable they become
In summary, the main thing people lack is that they are not aware of their life purpose. At Calsoft, we try to help people define their life purpose.
What is the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Nem: At Calsoft, we help employees identify their life purpose by assisting them in defining what they want to do. For example, they may say, “I want to be a senior consultant.” Maybe they don’t know their life purpose itself, but at least at this time, they know that they want to be a senior consultant. So then we ask them. “Okay, if you wish to be successful as a consultant, what does it take for you to get there?” Then we specifically ask them, “What skills do you need to master?” in three categories: People, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.
For the category of Innovation, we ask people questions such as, “What kind of things do you need to learn? What kind of classes do you need to take? What kind of projects do you need to be able to do? What kind of things do you need to learn for you to achieve your goal in terms of Innovation?”
For Entrepreneurship, you have to make things happen. You have to be able to execute projects successfully so that you can get another project. Your project has to be profitable. We have to make customers satisfied. We need to learn how to make things happen.
Next is People, which is our mindset or attitude. We want people to realize that we are not alone. We are completely interdependent and need each other. We need customers, suppliers, and co-workers, and so on. At the same time, I’m also independent. That means I am unique. I have my thoughts and dreams.
These are the questions we ask each employee. What do you need to learn, and how can we help you?
What is the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Nem: The question people should ask is, “How can I create value for the company and our customers?” Most employees know the technology or type of project they’d like to work on, but they don’t necessarily know how they can contribute to the company effectively. It’s just not enough. Each employee should learn how to create value. Value aligned with economic as well as non-economic value. For example, how else can they contribute to the company vision, mission, or culture?
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
Nem: This is something I learned from Dr. Inamori. I should be asking myself, “Is my intention pure? Is my intention noble?” As the president or a senior executive with a lot of experience, I may become arrogant due to my title or expertise.
I always have to keep my intention pure and straightforward. Whatever my intention may be, it has to do something good for others. I think good and do good. So I have to keep asking that question every day.
How has Dr. Inamori’s Philosphy impacted you and your company?
Nem: Since I started to practice the Inamori philosophy almost 14 years ago, my everyday work life has been very meaningful. I take joy in working very closely with my employees. Each day I listen to their challenges and concerns.
Before I learned the Inamori philosophy, employee problems used to bother me. I’m trying to run my company and employees are coming to me telling me they are sick, have to visit their family, etc. It used to frustrate me. But now I feel, “Wow, I can do something for them.” If they are sick, I tell them to take care of themselves first. If your family needs help, take care of your family first because I trust them. When we take care of each other, that person takes care of me. We have management principles, and our purpose is to practice those principles from our heart. Sometimes I forget those principals too, and then the employees remind me. It makes me so proud of them.
We are certified as B Corp Benefit Corporation. A B Corp is different from a C Corp business in that the articles of incorporation go beyond making a profit to include doing something good for the community. We are assessed every year in how we take care of our employees, the community, and the planet. We have been recognized for our work because we have been certified as a B Corp for the last six years. We like to do that because this is good for employees, and it improves our morale. We are not just here to make money. We help each other, do volunteer work, and contribute to the community.
If there’s one idea you want readers of this interview to walk away believing, what would it be?
Nem: Kindness and compassion are the essences of work. We may use the latest technologies and management practices, but if we don’t have compassion for each other, it has no value. So called compassion, kindness, or love is our true nature. They should be the basis of our work.
What did you find most intriguing in this interview?
Below are six of the most intriguing insights that I found in this interview…
- We have to introduce principles that are designed to bring out our basic goodness.
- Amoeba Management allows people to see the impact they are making, so they become fully engaged.
- The main thing people lack is that they are not aware of their life purpose.
- Is my intention pure?
- We have management principles, and our purpose is to practice those principles from our heart.
- Kindness and compassion are the essences of work.
- About the Inamori Philosophy
- Kyocera Management Message
- Nem Journal Article Reprint
- Kyocera Philosophy Pocketbook (Request a copy from firstname.lastname@example.org)
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