Late last year, I had the rare opportunity to go on a long-overdue holiday with my family. After a string of hectic eleven months, the good, old family bonding is all I need to rejuvenate mentally and physically for the coming year. We chose the land of the rising sun for our destination as we have never been there as a family and the weather is known to be exceptionally comforting at that time of the year. With our heavy-duty jackets and scarves, we made our way to Osaka—known for its luscious autumn leaves, summer festivals and world famous ‘Onshins’. An ‘Onshin’ is a hot spring facility and inn that offer authentic traditional Japanese lifestyle to customers.

As soon as we arrived at the Onshin, I was struck by the way the staff immediately changed their seating position and mannerism the moment they saw us. We had only entered the front door when they greeted us with fresh towels and arranged our bags and shoes. Despite the language barrier, they tried their best to accommodate us. One of the staff picked up our bags and arranged them on the floor. Then he start wiping the wheels with his handkerchief ensuring our luggage look as new as the first day we bought it. By cleaning the wheels, the staff not only provided five star care and service to the clients but also ensured that the floor remains clean. Through his simple gesture, the staff made the customers felt special and assured from the very beginning. It opened my eyes to a work ethic the Japanese is known for. The exceptional service and efficiency passed down by generations upon generations.

It is the secret ingredient that made them the most developed nation in Asia to this day and one of the main technology producers and hub of innovation in the world. It is the spirit of making the best out of every task. It is called ‘Kaizen’. In literal terms, Kaizen means change and better. It is the spirit of continuous improvement. Philosophically, the guiding principle for every individual in an organization to realize the important part they play in delivering results. Kaizen connotes that big results come from small changes over time. It is not to be mistaken with making small changes in hope for bigger results. Kaizen means every one, from the cleaner, the receptionist, the executive, the manager and the Chief Executive Officer himself, play their part in the best way they can to achieve the desired result. In my years as a transformation expert and navigation, the Kaizen spirit seems to be the missing ingredient in most local institutions in the country. I’ve seen professionals who do not enjoy their career; people stuck doing things they don’t love and those who just don’t take their task seriously. It is not uncommon to observe inefficiency at institutions suffering from identity and culture crisis.

As Malaysians, we should take it upon ourselves to learn from others who are able to work and live more efficiently and fulfilling. This country is rich in its natural resources and beaming with endless possibilities. Thus it is sad to see if we fail to achieve what we could because of our poor attitude. Perhaps its time to look at Japan beyond the sophomoric and archetypal representations of their culture we have been digesting from commercials and the media. There are valuable lessons to be learnt and with IDR kick starting ground works on Pangkor Dialogue 2017, I am very excited to see how we can utilize the Kaizen attitude and deliver a better and more impactful event.

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