Akio Morita On Management

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Made In Japan, a story about Akio Morita‘s life and the first three decades since the founding of Sony Corporation.

I haven’t finished this book, but the last chapter titled ‘On Management’ was very interesting and it struck a chord with me. I’ve seen enough management decisions that were short sighted and proven to be wrong in the long run, throughout the 12 years I’ve been in the industry, and some of them could’ve been avoided or at least improved had the people behind them had better insights. I think everyone can learn a thing or two from these quotes…


pg 144
The most important mission for a Japanese manager is to develop a healthy relationship within the corporation, a feeling that employees and managers share the same fate.
pg 153
What we in industry learned in dealing with people is that people do not work just for money and that if you’re trying to motivate, money is not the most effective tool. To motivate people, you must bring them into the family and treat them like respected members of it.
pg 158
In the Japanese case, the business does not start out with the entrepreneur organizing his company using the worker as a tool. He starts a company and he hires personnel to realize his idea, but once he hires employees he must regard them as colleagues or helpers, not as tools for making profits.
pg 158
The investor and the employee are in the same position, but sometimes the employee is more important, because he will be there a long time whereas an investor will often get in and out on a whim in order to make a profit.
pg 162
At our company we are challenged to bring our ideas out into the open. If they clash with others, so much the better, because out of it may come something good at a higher level.
pg 163
If you and I had exactly the same ideas on all subjects, it would not be necessary for both of us to be in this company and receive a salary. Either you or I should resign in that case. It is precisely because you and I have different ideas that this company will run a smaller risk of making mistakes.


pg 165
Who could tell us better how to structure the work more than the people who are doing it?
pg 167
Go ahead and do what you think is right. If you make a mistake, you will learn from it. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.
pg 168
In Western countries, management lays off workers when a recession sets in. In Japan we just do not do that unless we have been brought to the direst point.
pg 170
And when a company is in trouble, it is the top management who take salary cuts before the lower-level employees.
pg 171
Despite the work of the Harvard Business School and others, and the increasing number of holders of advanced degrees in business administration, management is an elusive thing that cannot always be judged by next quarter’s bottom line. Management can look good on the bottom line but at the same time may be destroying the company by failing to invest in the future.
pg 171
To my mind, the performance of a manager is measured by how well that manager can organize a large number of people and how effectively he or she can get the highest performance from each of the individuals and blend them into a coordinated performance.
pg 173
In my view, profit doesn’t have to be so high, because in Japanese companies our shareholders do not clamor for immediate returns; rather they prefer long-term growth and appreciation. Of course we have to make a profit, but we have to make a profit over the long haul, not just the short term, and that means we must keep investing in research and development.
pg 174
I learned that an enemy of this innovation could be your own sales organization, if it has too much power, because very often these organizations discourage innovation.
pg 174
If you are nothing but profit-conscious, you cannot see the opportunities ahead. And where compensation is tied to profits, very often management will say, “Why should I sacrifice my own profits today for the guy who is going to follow me a few years from now?” Too often management will abandon work on a promising product because development costs seem to high. That can be short-sighted and can lead to the inability of a company to compete.


pg 186
People who are running a business ought to know their business very well. If the accountant had been in charge of our little company in 1946, our company would be a small operation making parts for the giants. Likewise, someone who is only a scientist is not always the best person to have at the helm.
pg 187
Whether the design, the technology, the merchandising, or the promotion was bad, the failure was a failure of management.
pg 187
Managers who do not have the capability to judge from a technical standpoint whether a product is feasible or not are at a tremendous disadvantage. I have always felt that the idea that professional managers can move from one industry to another is dangerous. Even being in the business and being knowledgeable about it is no guarantee that all the possible opportunities will be exploited and that mistakes will not be made.
pg 188
It is possible to have a good idea, a fine invention, but still miss the boat, so product planning, which means deciding how to use technology in a given product, demands creativity. Only with these three kinds of creativity — technology, product planning, and marketing — can the public receive the benefit of a new technology. And without an organization that can work together, sometimes over a very long period, it is difficult to see new projects to fruition.

The above came only from one chapter of the book, the rest of it was even more fascinating, the story of his childhood, the second World War, the people behind Sony, the technical and business sides of their product development, and the comparison between Japanese and Western philosophies.

I picked up this book after learning from Steve Jobs biography that both Akio Morita and Sony were inspirations to Steve and many people at Apple, I was curious, and now I understand why the legend is such an inspiration.

Note: If you’re a geek interested in reading the book, please also note that it contains lots of chapters on business and management.

Kelly Johnson In Skunk Works

I still have 80 pages to go on Skunk Works, but this book has been one of the best I’ve ever read.

The story revolves around an elite group within Lockheed Martin called Skunk Works, who worked on top secret projects and engineered some of the most famous aircraft in the history of aviation. The book was authored by Ben Rich, Skunk Works second director, and central to the story was Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson, the founder of Skunk Works who was a genius on both technical and management fronts.

There were many gems scattered throughout the pages, but my personal favourites were these words of wisdom during conversations between Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich.

The first one was when Ben told Kelly about his plan to attend a 13-week advance program at Harvard Business School, which was only available to 150 carefully selected executives. Kelly wrote Ben a glowing recommendation, but still insisted that it would be a complete waste of Ben’s time.

I’ll teach you all you need to know about running a company in one afternoon, and we’ll both go home early to boot. You don’t need Harvard to teach you that it’s more important to listen than to talk. You can get straight As from all your Harvard profs, but you’ll never make the grade unless you’re decisive: even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision. The final thing you need to know is don’t half-heartedly wound problems – kill them dead. That’s all there is to it. Now you can run this goddamn place. Now, go home and pour yourself a drink.

After Ben completed the program and returned to Skunk Works, Kelly asked him for his appraisal of the Harvard Business School. Ben wrote the equation: 2/3 of HBS = BS .

The second one was when Ben revealed that he had been approached by Northrop, a rival company, and was offered a significant salary raise along with the opportunity to build a Skunk Works-style group within Northrop. Here’s part of Kelly’s response…

Hell, in the main plant they give raises on the basis of the more people being supervised; I give raises to the guy who supervises least. That means he’s doing more and taking more responsibility. But most executives don’t think like that at all. Northrop’s senior guys are no different from all of the rest in this busines: they’re all empire builders, because that’s how they’ve been trained and conditioned. Those guys are all experts at covering their asses by taking votes on what to do next. They will never sit still for a secret operation that cuts them out entirely. Control is the name of the game, and if a Skunk Works really operates right, control is exactly what they won’t get.

And the most inspiring of them all was Kelly’s can-do attitude which he used to improve the people around him. Here’s what he said after Ben told him that there was no practical application to liquid hydrogen because it was so dangerous to store and handle, based on Mark’s Mechanical Engineering Handbook, the engineer’s bible…

Goddam it, Rich, I don’t care what in hell that book says what you happen to think. Liquid hydrogen is the same as steam. What is steam? Condensed water. Hydrogen plus oxygen produces water. That’s all that liquid hydrogen really is. Now, get out there and do the job for me.

A must read, even if you’re not an engineer, even if you’re not running a company, specially if you like pushing the limit of what’s possible in whatever field you’re doing.

Quotes From 37signals Rework

Pictured above is my copy of Rework. The photo was taken by Latte Girl at the State Library of Victoria.

If there’s ever going to be anyone changing the way we work and the way we run a business, then I’ll bet my money on the 37signals guys. This is one book I’d suggest everyone to read (unless you’re filthy rich and never have to work). I see Rework as the agile movement for the broader working industry. There are so many practices that are just brain-dead-absolute-must pick ups. The challenge out of this will be on the natural fact that people are uncomfortable with change, even when the change is for the better.

I finished reading Rework several months ago, and as usual, I kept a list of my favourite lines from the book. 37signals (via Jason Fried) kindly gave me permission to share those lines on my blog, so here they are:

Cover – What you need to do is stop talking and start working.

Ignore the real world

p14 – The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.

Failure is not a rite of passage

p17 – Success is the experience that actually counts.

Work work work work work

p25 – They (the workaholics) try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.

Be a starter

p28 – You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started.

Make a dent in the universe

p31 – Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see.

Scratch of your own itch

p34 – The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use.


p38 – The most important thing is to begin.
p38 – The real question is how well you execute.

Not an excuse!

p40 – The truth is most people just don’t want it bad enough.


p57 – Actual businesses worry about profit from day one.

You need a commitment strategy not an exit strategy

p59 – You should be thinking about how to make your project grow and succeed, not how you’re going to jump ship.

Less is a good thing

p68 – So before you sing the “not enough” blues, see how far you can get with what you have.


p74 – Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.
p75 – Details just don’t buy you anything in the early stages.

Decisions are progress

p77 – Commit to making decisions. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.
p78 – Don’t make things worse by overanalysing and delaying before you even get going.

Get it out there

p93-94 – So we used the time before launch to solve more urgent problems that actually mattered on day one. Day 30 could wait.
p94 – … the best way to get there is through iterations. Stop imagining what’s going to work. Find out for real.

Pour yourself into your product

p139 – Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.

Focus on you instead of they

p149 – It’s not a win-or-lose battle. Their profits and costs are their. Yours are yours.

Let your customers outgrow you

p157 – Scaring away new customers is worse than losing old customers.

Don’t out-spend, out-teach

p173 – Buying people’s attention with a magazine or online banner ad is one thing. Earning their loyalty by teaching them forms a whole different connection. They’ll trust you more. They’ll respect you more.

Fake fake fake

p183 – It’s OK if it’s not perfect. You might not seem as professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.

Everything is marketing

p193 – Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.

Pass on great people

p206 – Great has nothing to do with it. If you don’t need someone, you don’t need someone.

What does 5 years experience mean anyway?

p213 – How long someone’s been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they’ve been doing it.

Hire managers of 1

p220 – Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. … How can you spot these people? … They’ve run something on their own or launched some kind of project.

Hire the better writer

p222 – Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.

Everyone on the front lines

p242 – It’s feeling the hurt that really motivates people to fix the problem. And the flip side is true too: The joy of happy customers or ones who have had a problem solved can also be wildly motivating.

Culture is the by-product of consistent behaviour

p249 – You can’t install a culture. Like a fine scotch, you’ve got to give it time to develop.

Decisions are temporary

p251 – Optimize for now and worry about the future later.

Build a rockstar environment

p253 – Cut the crap and you’ll find that people are waiting to do great work.

Send people home at five

p 258 – You want busy people. People who have a life outside of work. People who care about more than one thing. You shouldn’t expect the job to be someone’s entire life – at least not if you want to keep them around for a long time.

Inspiration expires now

p271 – Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you.

As I read through the book, I couldn’t stop relating each chapter with my own experience working in the industry for the past 9 years. And here’s hoping the next 9 years will be more rework-able.

Garry Kasparov’s How Life Imitates Chess

I finished reading How Life Imitates Chess a few months ago, and finally had the chance to go through my notes this afternoon during lunch break.

Having followed the world of chess ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been interested to know how great chess players think, to know their opinions about life, to know the things they went through to achieve their extraordinary skills… and this book offers exactly that.

Garry Kasparov wrote about his experience, his thinking process, and how he applied all those things into various aspects of life. These are my favourite quotes from the book:

Ch1 – The lesson
It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to work hard and to study late into the night. You must also become intimately aware of the methods you use to reach your decisions.

Ch2 – Strategy
“Why?” is the question that separates visionaries from functionaries, great strategists from mere tacticians. You must ask this question constantly if you are to understand and develop and follow your strategy.

Ch3 – Strategy and tactics at work
… our goal is to improve our position. You must avoid creating weaknesses, find small ways to improve your pieces, and think small – but never stop thinking.

Ch4 – Calculation
A computer may look at millions of moves per second, but lacks a deep sense of why one move is better than another; this capacity for evaluation is where computers falter and humans excel. It doesn’t matter how far ahead you see if you don’t understand what you are looking at.

Ch5 – Talent
Break your routines, even to the point of changing ones you are happy with to see if you can find new and better methods.

Ch6 – Preparation
If you said you didn’t have enough time, that meant you were not well organized.

Botvinnik summed up his philosophy by stating, “The difference between man and animal is that man is capable of establishing priorities!”

Ch7 – MTQ: Material, time, quality
But I believe that by using your time wisely you can put all your material to your best advantage and achieve the ultimate goal of quality. That’s the promise of the material-time-quality concept–in chess and in life.

Ch8 – Exchanges and imbalances
If we can detect or cultivate a weak spot in our opponent’s position, we can then attempt to transform our position to take advantage of that weakness.

Ch 9 – Phases of the game
So dedicate yourself to making the time, finding a space in which you can think and learn, and finding new ideas with which to shock your adversaries.

Ch11 – Question success
Question the status quo at all times, especially when things are going well. When something goes wrong, you naturally want to do it better next time, but you must train yourself to want to do it better even when things go right.

Ch12 – The inner game
That’s why I always think of Simon Bolivar and remember that experienced soldier who studies the battlefields in the aftermath of the war returns with both wisdom and renewed courage.

Ch13 – Man vs. machine
Weak human + machine + superior process was greater than a strong computer and, remarkably, greater than a strong human + machine with an inferior process.

Ch14 – Intuition
As they develop, our instincts–our intuitive senses–become labor-saving and time-saving devices; they literally cut down the time it takes to make a proper evaluation and act. You can collect and analyze new information forever without ever making a decision. Something has to tell you when the law of diminishing returns is kicking in. And that something is intuition.

Ch15 – Crisis point
But in fact, crisis really means a turning point, a critical moment when the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain. It also implies a point of no return. This signifies both danger and opportunity…

Another thing I like about this book is that it also validates my belief on the importance of wanting to improve the way you do things, and also on the importance of understanding what you are doing.

And regarding Garry’s current involvement in politics… as much as I wish him all the best, I’m afraid this is one battle he’s unlikely to win despite his brilliance (and I’d love to be proven wrong!). Politics defy any form of logic and reasoning, chess is a much more peaceful world in any way.

Quotes From Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

My favourite quotes from Randy Pausch (a professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University)’s The Last Lecture – Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams (video):

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.

I probably got more from that dream and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish.

You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.

When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Head fake learning is absolutely important, and you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.

The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.

It’s pretty easy to be smart when you’re parroting smart people.

It’s very important to know when you’re in a pissing match. And it’s very important to get out of it as quickly as possible.

Until you got ice cream spilled on you, you’re not doing field work.

I can’t tell you beforehand, but right before they present it I can tell you if the world (his students project work) is good by the body language. If they’re standing close to each other, the world is good.

If you’re going to do anything that pioneering you will get those arrows in the back, and you just have to put up with it. I mean everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Somewhere along the way there’s got to be some aspect of what lets you get to achieve your dreams. First one is the role of parents, mentors, and students.

And he (Andy Van Dam) said, Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant. Because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.

You just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore.

I have a theory that people who come from large families are better people because they’ve just had to learn to get along.

Loyalty is a two way street.

Syl said, it took me a long time but I’ve finally figured it out. When it comes to men that are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do. It’s that simple. It’s that easy.

You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest.

I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.

Apologise when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.

Don’t bail. The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.

Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.

Don’t complain. Just work harder. That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him.

Be good at something, it makes you valuable.

Find the best in everybody. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.

Be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.

It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.

I think the most important message from his lecture is that leading your life the right way is never just about you, it’s about you and the people around you.

The way Randy passionately talked about life reminds me of Roberto Benigni’s character in Life is Beautiful, albeit a slightly more arrogant version :).

Update (26/07/2008): I checked my blog comment alerts this morning, and learnt that Randy just passed away. In my mind, I had always hoped that he would beat the cancer… somehow. Rest in peace, Randy. Our thoughts are with your family and friends.