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Japan's Business Renaissance

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Japan's Business Renaissance

How the World's Greatest Economy Revived, Renewed, and Reinvented Itself


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Japanese firms base their new incarnations on the old principles of bushido. How to prosper by thinking like a samurai.

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  • Eye Opening
  • Background


Do you remember the 1980s cascade of management tomes extolling the ancient principles of Japanese management? Welcome back. At that time, Japanese corporations were asserting themselves globally and seemed invincible in almost every industry. Then, everyone wanted to learn from Japan (to the profit of many authors and consultants). However, the collapse of the Japanese stock market in 1989 precipitated a new way of thinking about Japan. Instead of being a global exemplar, Japan became a global disgrace as news emerged of financial corruption, of inflexible bureaucracy, of agency risk gone amok, of self-serving and incestuous dealings between banks and companies, and, above all, of the insane overvaluation of Japanese stocks and real estate. Now, 15 years after the collapse, in the wake of a few years of apparent Japanese recovery, though not a rebound to 1980s levels, authors Mark Fuller and John C. Beck dust off the myth of ancient Japanese magic. They offer a skillfully retailored hand-me-down of a familiar, somewhat imperial suit. The emperor may still lack a full wardrobe, but not everything is old. The book includes some novel findings from recent attitudinal surveys of Japanese managers, and observations from the handful of Japanese companies that have managed a turnaround. suggests this as an interesting ride on the swinging pendulum of the Japanese economy, with a look at what makes it tick.


Japan’s Remarkable History of Rebirth

Japan has reinvented itself numerous times. Perhaps no country or culture has proven as deft at the miracle of rebirth. Japan’s example holds profound lessons for corporations today, primarily that renewal must be the business of every organization. Although business fads of the recent past - such as transformation, growth and core competence - seem to have built-in elements of renewal, on closer examination, much of the business thinking of the past decade actually rejects renewal, or claims that it is not possible.

Yet, consider Japan. Stagnant since its great 1989 market crash, the growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is once again positive and sustainable. The currency is strong and foreign direct investment has doubled since 2000. Japan has returned to the world stage most unexpectedly. The publicity about Japan since 1989 has mostly been negative. The birthrate was falling, the population graying, a social security crisis loomed, bureaucratic rigidities seemed to rule out flexible adjustments, the lifetime employment system had broken down. What was left, quite simply, was renewal. Japan’s reformers have regained...

About the Authors

Mark Fuller is co-founder, chairman and CEO of a strategy consultancy firm. John C. Beck is the co-author of The Attention Economy and Got Game, president of a management consulting firm and former director of international research for an international consultancy.

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