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JAN 30, 2012

Perspectives of the Universe and of Humanity

By Tomoya Nakamura, Photographer Katsuo Sugano

One day, through a student-initiated club activity at GLOBIS University, I had the opportunity to discuss with the representative from Panasonic (formerly Matsushita Electric Industries) who was responsible for the recall of defective oil fan heaters in Hokkaido and Tohoku (north regions in Japan). Panasonic employees had urgently carried out door-to-door checks across all neighborhoods in spite of a winter storm. As we discussed, I wondered that if this defect occurred at another company, would employees have acted with the same amount of urgency?

Essentials for Management according to Mr. Konosuke Matsushita

Let me now write about Mr. Konosuke Matsushita’s management perspective. Mr. Matsushita founded and developed Panasonic into one of Japan’s most prominent electronics companies in just one generation. Mr. Matsushita is highly regarded not just in Japan but also in the United States. For example, Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus Dr. John Kotter describes Mr. Matsushita as “The 20th Century’s Most Remarkable Leader.”

Let me introduce Mr. Matsushita by recalling an anecdote from a book by Mr. Takashi Nakajima. When Mr. Matsushita was giving his lecture, a member of the audience questioned him:

“If you had to name one concept that is most important for management, what would it be?”

Mr. Matsushita grumbled a bit as he took some time to consider his answer.

“May I have more than an answer? Could it be two?” he replied.”

After the questioner confirmed that this was acceptable, Mr. Matsushita deliberately gave this response:

“A Perspective of the Universe and a Perspective of Humanity.”

Now, think about his reply for a moment. What do you think is most important for management in your view? What do you recall when you hear “a perspective of the universe and of humanity”? Why would a perspective of the universe be necessary for management? What is the original meaning of this term? Finally, why might management require a perspective of humanity? Please reflect on these questions.

The Right Principles are guided by the Flow of the Universe

I believe that a perspective of the universe is equal to understanding the construction or the philosophic principles of the universe. Now, what then are the philosophic principles of the universe? While there are many perspectives on this, I think that we can say that, 1) In the universe, something will manifest if it contributes to social harmony and progress, and, 2) Ideas and reality are interconnected.

The universe will gently extend its supporting hand and encourage us if we take the right behaviors and the right actions that contribute to social harmony and progress. I believe this could be called the “flow of the universe.” I like to mention, however, that this does not always flow in just one direction. The universe itself is constantly circulating, that can be seen in tides that come and go at the seashore. But, as a whole, I see that the flow of the universe will support us if we can align our activities so that they contribute to social harmony and progress.

In my view, the actual meaning of contributing to social harmony and progress may change according to the degree of maturity of society. During the rise of capitalism, for example, the universe flowed toward people who sought to maximize their wealth. As a result, wealth accumulation accelerated investments into industries that lead to greater prosperity in the world as a whole. However, as wealth become monopolized to the point of being excessive, there came a strong headwind from an aggravated society. I believe these processes can be one of the explanations for the rise of CSR (corporate social responsibility) and of NPOs (non-profit organizations).

In outer space there is no resistance. As ideas spread, they circle around outer space as physical energy. I believe the energy of these ideas create reality.

Now, please imagine that a company is like a small yacht in the ocean. The flow of the universe encourages activities that contribute to social harmony and progress. If one can feel the flow of the universe and correctly set the sail, the yacht will speed faster ahead. Furthermore, if management holds correct business philosophy, sets up a vision to contribute to social harmony and progress, and organizes the company’s actions along these thoughts, this yacht will not only receive the flow of the universe but also be pulled by this future vision which will lead into reality.

A Rich Perspective of Humanity brings Stakeholders together

Next, let’s explore a perspective of humanity. Just as the term indicates, this perspective can be said to represent one’s way of thinking towards people. Mr. Matsushita recognized that, in the truest sense, humanity was given an opportunity to harmonize with the universe.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about a perspective of humanity more generally. A company is formed not only by the vision of a leader, but rather by actions of its employees, by cooperation of its business partners, and by the support of its customers. Therefore, if a project does not put people first—for example even if a good strategy is conceived but not implemented—the project ends up being nothing more than a castle built upon the sand.

Now, unlike machines, human beings have emotions and abilities which change with time and one’s environment. If you think back on your own experiences, you may notice that your feelings were most calm and stable, and your skills were most effectively utilized, when you were engaged with activities that contributed to social harmony and progress. That is, you were attuned to a perspective of the universe.

If we reflect on what we have covered so far, we can see that we have more or less unraveled the reasons why Mr. Konosuke Matsushita stated that perspectives of the universe and humanity are essential for management.

Finally, I will take up the question of how these perspectives relate to Ki, the main subject of this column.

Ki is, as I explained in the previous volume, a spiritual energy that exists in the universe. Ki aligns very well with the concept of the flow of the universe guiding right actions that contribute to social harmony and progress. Therefore, management that understands this universal perspective can bring much Ki into the company.

The human body itself can be viewed as a “micro-universe.” In martial arts, one form of a micro-universe can be created when one places one’s center of gravity to the seika-tanden, just below the navel, and stands in shizentai, or in a natural posture. The seika-tanden becomes the center of this micro-universe, where one’s inner and outer consciousness are in a state of interaction. In martial arts, this is called the “unoccupied state” and is recognized as when a person’s potential can be maximized. If management holds these perspectives, I believe more employees will work harder, more business partners will offer help, and more customers will support the company. Getting back to the defective fan heater case at Panasonic, I heard that when every Panasonic advertisement issued an apology and announced the recall of its oil fan heaters, and when employees were concentrating on these recalls, the company’s sales maintained very high figures.

Of course the concept of Ki alone does not explain the success of Panasonic. However, I believe that there is value in recognizing what Mr. Konosuke Matsushita said about management. The most important concepts for management are to have a perspective of the universe and a perspective of humanity.

(This article was originally published on October 29, 2009)