An intriguing post came my way this morning, talking about the difference between Japan the the US:
Every--and I mean every Japanese restaurant (including the fast-food sushi joints) had an architectural bent. A sense of style. An aesthetic sensibility you just don't see throughout the US!
The Japanese are being raised with a design/art/aesthetic sensibility, and we need to do the same.
While this may be part of it, I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Actually, I'm surprised they didn't mention it since they talk about it quite a lot on their blog. I think the biggest difference between the Japan and the west is that the Japanese are raised to give a damn. Aesthetic sensibility, attention to detail and appreciation of a job well done are all just part of, a consequence of that.
In the west, we are raised to see work as something to be endured, a necessary evil. You commute to the office in the morning, do your job and then clock out as soon as you are can. We talk so much about and put so much value on "getting the job done" with barely a nod to "getting the job done well". If you said that you really cared about your job and doing the best you possibly could, well, people would just assume that you were a little strange.
Now, not ever having ever worked in Japan, I don't know if the usual employee-for-life-working-in-a-big-corporate-family image is accurate or just a sterotype but I suspect there is more than a grain of truth to it. Work is more than just toil for a paycheck, to the point where people making manholes or cleaning offices take pride in their work and doing it well. I heard reports that the recent train derailment in Japan was possibly caused by the train going too fast because the driver was trying to make up for being 90 seconds behind schedule. Now this might be taking things to extreme (another thing the Japanese are very good at ), the average lateness of trains is around 20-25 seconds (!), but it certainly indicates the importance of doing the job well.
If you've ever had the chance to work for someone who really cared about doing a good job, you probably found that it was infectious. If your boss actually gives a damn, the people working for him will almost certainly feel the same way as well (and those that don't probably won't last too long anyway). Passion is contagious, not only amongst co-workers but with your customers as well. Just look at the
fanaticism keen support amongst its users that Apple has managed to raise. Just look at the difference between the release of Tiger (the new Mac OS) and the buzz for Longhorn. Microsoft just hasn't been able to get anyone to care (other than maybe the techies and even they're starting to lose interest).
Anyway, the rest of their blog is well worth checking out and I've been a big fan for a long time (they have the best pictures on any blog I've ever seen ). In particular, check out If some people don't HATE your product, it's mediocre. It's the post I'd write if I was actually able to write. And while saying things like "If you aren't living on the edge... you're taking up too much room" might be a bit harsh, the energy behind such an attitude, well, wow!