The Real Lessons That We Can Learn From The Japanese Earthquake

The earthquake that hit Japan has to be one of the most tragic events of the last few years – and there have been a few!

Over the last 6 or 7 years I have spent a fair bit of time in Japan, always on business. Its a country that I truly love. Actually that isn't quite true. Its the people and the culture that I love. And “love” isn't the right word either. I think its more “revere”.

Over the last week the people from the north of Japan have experienced a massive quake, then a tsunami, and then on top of that – a major nuclear incident. Then to top all that off, the weather turned and late snow storms have hit the refugees from the disaster. Absolutely incredible.

But what do you see when you look at the images on TV?

Patience, stoicism, charity, compassion….

The corporate structures may be just as they are in other countries – some good and some bad. The government in Japan may be just like our own – riven by a need to preserve the party and as a result incapable of taking risk.

But the people…. The ordinary people of Japan appear to be like the stories of people in London during the blitz in World War 2 – helping each other, prepared to share one rice ball with their neighbour when there is nothing in the cupboard, prepared even to go on a suicide mission to try to avert a meltdown in the nuclear reactors…

This is absolutely heroic, incredible stuff, that we should all be watching and trying to figure out how to incorporate into our culture as quickly as possible. Because to a large extent it is being lost.

I remember going to Greece in about 1969 or 1970. I had worked for a Greek guy in London for a short period in one of his restaurants. He told me that I needed to go to the Peloponese to experience the real Greece. He told me about the philosophy of “village” in Greece…. How a healthy child belonged to the family, but a sick child was the responsibility of the whole village. The same with the elderly. And this spirit of close community philanthropy can be a tremendously powerful way of bringing people together both in villages and also in businesses.

The ability for those who are advantaged to share some of the benefits that they have with those who have less is something that companies could use to tremendous benefit.

Back when I was CEO of Lake Technology, one of the engineers in the company had a baby who was spastic. We only had a small work force of about 40 people. We got together and we ran a fund raising event for the family. We helped them get care, and we helped put money into the Spastic Centre which was the main means of informational and emotional support for he and his wife. It was a small thing that we did, but it was a way to unite the people in the company at a time when our revenues were small and our burn rate was high, and I needed everyone in the company to be pulling together.

I truly believe that by getting people to pull together to help one of our own with greater needs than the rest of us, we created a loyalty of spirit and purpose that was tremendously valuable for the company at that stage in its evolution.

What is happening in Japan at the moment is the foundation for an economic – and more importantly spiritual – resurgence in Japan.

How can a country with so much compassion at its heart not bounce back much much stronger than before?

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