February 27, 2012

Unique Uniqlo

On the heels of Tokyo University's plan to start its school year in the fall, casual wear retailer Uniqlo announced that it will adopt year-round recruiting in Japan. Down the road, this may be the more important development of the two.

Traditionally, Japanese corporations do their recruiting only in April. Miss that window and you have to wait a whole year to apply again. Why? Because that's the way it's always been done.

If there is a single characteristic that is at once Japan's great strength and its greatest failing, it is the conviction that any obstacle may be overcome by simply keeping at it and trying harder, epitomized by the ubiquitous verb "Ganbarou!"

For example, Japanese generally place less emphasis on "IQ" than on perseverance. That's all fine and dandy, except that the ability to persevere at a grueling series of multiple-choice exams could be called, oh, I don't know, "IQ."

As a result, rather than questioning the status quo, the first impulse is to do the same-old, same-old, only twice as hard. "X worked (or didn't) in the past; therefore, we should keep on doing (or never attempt) X in the future." Just more.

The Japanese are hardly alone in this. It's a strategy favored by prohibitionists and Keynesian economists everywhere.

Actually, questioning the way things are done is a favorite pastime of the talking heads on NHK news shows. Changing them is another matter entirely. Going from talking to doing is what sets these developments apart from the rest.

At the same time, the often silly and arbitrary reasons behind Japan's lagging labor productivity rates paradoxically suggest these problems could be tackled more expeditiously that those currently ailing Europe.

Related posts

Silver linings
Dragon Zakura
Ganbarou! Japan
Starting in the fall

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