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Reality bites in Japan

Reality bites in Japan
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First Published: Tue, Dec 21 2010. 11 35 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Dec 21 2010. 11 36 PM IST
Japan. A tiny little country on the other side of China. Isolated, irregularly shaped and a nightmare for class VIII students of CBSE geography.
“Draw a map of Japan in the sheet given to you. On this map mark the city of Yokohama, Durgapur steel plant and the Brahmaputra river . What are the reasons for this? Explain with examples from a mixed economy.” Thus turning our children onto a path of substance abuse, body piercings and Facebook.
Yet for all its isolation and miniature scale, Japan has tremendous impact on the whole world. It gave us some of our most important technological products such as quartz watches, PlayStations and tiffin-box-sized manual washing machines you can strap to your shins while walking. And who can ignore Japan’s role in global commerce, what with the thousands of excellent cars that are being shipped each day, even as we speak, back to Japan for repairs?
And now Japan has even managed to teach us a very important lesson when it comes to cubicle culture. An incident happened earlier this week that I would like to draw your attention to.
Minoru Yanagida, Japan’s justice minister till very recently, was attending a meeting with supporters in his home town of Hiroshima. During the function he apparently told attendees that his job was really easy, that he was really bored and that he had no idea how he’d got it.
To illuminate this point further, and after a glass of sake or seven, no doubt, the minister confessed that all he had to ever do in the Japanese parliament was stand up and say one of two things: “I won’t comment on individual cases” or “I’m acting in accordance with the law and the evidence.”
Scandalized Japanese people shouted the local language equivalent of popular Delhi euphemism “Oh my maki roll!”
Yanagida was forced to resign last Monday for his candid confession. But given his work load I am sure several of his colleagues have come forward to fill his roomy, comfortable shoes.
More importantly, the minister’s fall from grace should be an important lesson to all office goers and cubicle dwellers. Especially for those who have sparse job descriptions.
Irrespective of how boring your job is, how easy it is to do, and how utterly undemanding it is of your abilities, you must never actually admit to these shortcomings in public. Not even as a joke. Not even when you are only with close family members.
There are many reasons for this.
First of all, most companies like to think that they are terribly efficient. That every member of the staff has been hired for a specific, important, indispensable function. You can sense this from the way HR or Personnel discuss staff allocations during annual meetings with department heads:
“No no no. I can either give you one position in marketing or one in sales. That too only if you give up that one vacant spot in quality control and transfer at least 0.58 positions to shipping. ”
“What nonsense! How can I possibly transfer 0.58 positions?”
“There is that really short fellow in Lucknow, no?”
“Ah yes. Bheem Singh. Good point. Agreed.”
In such an environment, where you are merely a number on a cruel spreadsheet, you don’t want to go around telling people that your job is inconsequential. That is just asking for trouble. Friendly folks in HR might laugh when you boast about how you completed War And Peace entirely at work. But actually they are mentally drafting your exit interview questionnaire.
But even at a more personal level, it is sub optimal to play down your importance at work. There is too much social pressure. Matrimonial ads come to mind. The ads are always for “Handsome Purkayastha youth in high position in multinational company.” How majestic!
Seldom do you see “Engineer with handsome profile, depending on angle of observation, seeks alliance. Boy works in a large Bangalore-based IT company where he handles switching on and switching off of servers several times a week. Has many unexpired Sodexho booklets.”
You always want to give other people the impression that what you do really matters. However, if you cannot lie to your family friends, at least play the game in your office. Overstating your meager importance will intimidate subordinates, unsettle competing contemporaries and impress superiors.
For instance, if you work in a newspaper and your editor asks you what you’ve been doing all day, don’t say: “I was Googling for gossip about some random Japanese minister. And lunch.”
This might be the truth. But, like messages on the customer service email ID, the truth is irrelevant and mostly bothersome. Instead, you must say something like “I was doing some background research and working my exclusive sources for some information on a top political functionary in a foreign government. The time difference is killing me.” Come bonus time next year, the editor will recall your pivotal place in the newsroom.
But that is just a hypothetical example. When it comes to your job, talk about it boldly and passionately. Don’t diss it and commit career hara-kiri.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life.
Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 21 2010. 11 35 PM IST