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Japanese Management Lingo

In last week’s Pocketblog, we looked at the 5S approach to ordering and organising a workspace, introducing five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

It struck me that there are an awful lot of Japanese terms that have enriched our business language, so I thought I’d list a few more.  Of course, readers of the Pocketblog will also probably be familiar with gemba too.

I think that some of the concepts that they raise are absolutely fascinating – and necessary to us in the West.  Let’s look at a few more, some familiar, some little known.


Collaboration and information sharing.  Keeping others informed.


Radical change.  The opposite of…


Continuous flow of incremental improvements.


A progress tracking approach that follows instances through a process.  Literally ‘billboard’.  Increasingly used in project management and team workflow.  There is a lovely (free) web-based app called Trello that works on Mac, PC and mobile app formats.


Literally: ‘death from overwork’.  Don’t!


The spirit of co-operating for the common good.


Perception and foresight, coupled with good judgement.


The sense of regret when we become aware of waste and failure to use well any things of value.  (I am so glad I now have a word for this).  It comes from the concept, ‘mottai’ that things have inherent value, or dignity.  Nice.

Muda, Mura and Muri

… are the three forms of waste

  • Muda
    Wasted effort
  • Mura
  • Muri
    Unreasonable – even ridiculous – requirements


Literally, ‘going around the roots’.  Refers to the informal stakeholder alignment and political process that lay the groundwork for effective consensus or change.

Pecha Kucha

Currently popular style of presenting, with 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds.  Gives a fast and dynamic way to present an idea.  Pecha Kucha nights often consist of a dozen or more presentations.  Literally, ‘chit-chat’.

Poka Yoke

Making error proof.  Creating something so that mistakes cannot be made.


Public truth.  The things that are appropriate to share in a public situation.  It literally means ‘facade’ and we might contrast it with ‘honne’, meaning your true feelings.  Puts me in mind of the Johari Window.

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Through the Square Window… is me!

Are you:

able, accepting, adaptable, bold, brave, calm,
caring, cheerful, clever, complex, confident,
dependable, dignified, energetic, extroverted,
friendly, giving, happy, helpful, idealistic,
independent, ingenious, intelligent, introverted,
kind, knowledgeable, logical, loving, mature,
modest, nervous, observant, organized, patient,
powerful, proud, quiet, reflective, relaxed,
religious, responsive, searching, self-assertive,
self-conscious, sensible, sentimental, shy, silly,
smart, spontaneous, sympathetic, tense,
trustworthy, warm, wise, witty

If you had to pick five or six of these 56 adjectives, which would you pick?  Equally important, which would your friends or your colleagues pick?

Match and Mismatch

If the match were perfect, then your whole life would be an open book. But more likely, there will be some aspects of your personality that are hidden from other people – adjectives no one but you would pick.  Likewise, there are usually characteristics that people will see in you, that you are blind to.

Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham

This exercise was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, to examine how to help us extend the area of shared understanding between ourselves and the people we communicate with.

imageThe model they produced is powerful; the Johari Window. Luft named it from a contraction of their first names, Joseph and Harry (Harrington); JoHari. The mid word capitalisation (a ‘camel’ word) was ahead of recent typographical fashion by 40 years, but it was soon dropped.


The Johari Window

The window has four panes, derived from the knowledge or lack of it that we have about ourselves, and that others have about us.


The Arena

The Open area represents what we and the people around us all know about ourselves.  These are the matched adjectives  This is shared knowledge and is the basis of effective communication. Luft and Ingham worked from the assumption that the more of our life that is in this quadrant, the better our relationships will be.

The Facade

In the Hidden area is the information we keep from the world. It is what I have not revealed to you about myself. It may be trivial facts about my hobbies, deeply personal feelings, or past history that I am embarrassed or secretive about.

The Blind Spot

In the Blind area, people around us can recognise traits, habits or characteristics, to which we, ourselves, are oblivious. These may be strengths or failings.

The Unknown Area

Finally, there is the Unknown zone, representing characteristics that neither we nor other people are aware of. Perhaps these things are repressed; perhaps simply un-expressed, like latent capabilities.

Uses of the Johari Window

imageThere is a wide range of uses for this model, in coaching, training, organisational development and therapy.  The latent capabilities in the blind spot represent a powerful opportunity for coaches, whilst supressed emotions may be the very focus of therapeutic interventions.  Unsurprisingly, this is a popular model among trainers, facilitators and coaches, but beware: if you do uncover repressed components, leave them be.  They should be addressed with great care, by qualified therapists.

Opening the windows

Some use the metaphor of windows into four rooms in our lives.  We can choose which to open and which rooms to expand.  Most commonly, we can enhance our knowledge of ourselves by seeking feedback, and making use of the insights others have. We can also increase our self-awareness by processes of self discovery, while a group discovery process can open up the Unknown area to both ourselves and the group.

When we want to be more open about ourselves, we can disclose information about ourselves to other people, removing it from the hidden area.

So here’s the deal

The Johari Window has multiple uses, but is most often used to help teams get to know each other better.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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