Five Japanese philosophical concepts you can still use in people management today

There are some old Japanese philosophy and lifestyle concepts offering valuable insights which you, as managers, can apply to your work even today. These centuries-old truths and ideas can help you create a more collaborative understanding and productive work environment in your teams. Here are five such Japanese philosophical concepts.


Kaizen: Continuous improvement

Kaizen emphasises continuous, incremental improvement. Its idea is that small, consistent changes can lead to significant advancements over time.

How do you use this concept? Encourage a culture of continuous improvement within your team. Promote regular feedback, empower employees to suggest improvements, and emphasise the value of learning from both success and failure.

Ishin-denshin: Unspoken communication

Ishin-denshin is the concept of "heart-to-heart" communication, understanding without words. It emphasises the ability to convey emotions and thoughts implicitly. To apply ishin-denshin in your management style, encourage open communication and cultivate a sense of empathy within the team. Encourage active listening, emotional intelligence, and the development of strong interpersonal relationships.

Wa: Harmony

This Japanese concept emphasises the importance of harmony and balance. It suggests individuals should work together cohesively, and conflicts should be resolved to maintain a peaceful environment. As a manager, you should promote a harmonious work environment by addressing conflicts promptly, promoting teamwork, and emphasising the collective success of the team over individual achievements.

Omotenashi: Hospitality and customer service

Omotenashi is the Japanese concept of wholehearted hospitality. It revolves around anticipating the needs of others and fulfilling them, ideally before they even arise. If you want to apply omotenashi in your team, try to promote a customer-centric mindset. Whether dealing with clients or internal colleagues, stress the importance of understanding their needs and going the extra mile to exceed expectations.

Mottainai: Appreciation and avoiding waste

This idea is based on a sense of regret over waste. As such, it encourages appreciation of resources and honest work. It promotes a mindful approach to consumption and utilisation, and tries to avoid waste. It is a good idea to instil a sense of resourcefulness within the team. Encourage responsible use of time, talents, and materials. Discourage unnecessary waste and foster a culture of gratitude for the resources at hand.