Casting Your Gaze Higher

In this article, I will discuss how my perspective has changed as a result of my working environment.


Who are you really working for?

My name is Kagami Ryutaro, and I design bespoke devices for Kikusui’s Solutions Development Division. In this article, I will discuss how my perspective has changed as a result of my working environment.

Factory Mindset

When I first joined Kikusui, I worked in a factory that manufactured what we called ‘catalogue’ devices (devices manufactured to a standardized specification). The manufacturing process entailed assembling these devices in accordance with the work instructions provided using the designated components, then performing tests and adjustments.

Having joined Kikusui straight out of high school with an insufficient knowledge of electronics, I didn’t think twice about this process, and was completely focused on silently performing the tasks I had been assigned. I was younger and quickly adapted to the environment.

In those days honestly speaking, my focus was really on my boss and other senior employees, and I was concerned with what their assessment of my performance. I concentrated on working without causing any problems. This meant that whenever a problem arose, rather than seeing it from the perspective of the end user (the customer), I would see it from a somewhat different perspective: I would ask myself, ‘What do I have to do to avoid getting in trouble with my boss?’

Thinking back on things, my sights were set very low. It was as if I was walking down the street with my eyes glued on my feet. My approach was to fix my gaze on a point just in front of my shoes and assume that everything was alright as long as I didn’t see any stones or potholes. Perhaps because I was young or I had become overly accustomed to the environment at work, I did not question this attitude. However, while I thought I knew how our customers used the devices we manufactured, in fact I had almost no idea.

A Curious Radio Commercial

I was in a shop the other day when I happened to tune into to a commercial playing on the radio. It was an advertisement for a Japanese language course aimed at foreign residents of Japan. I don’t remember the details of the ad, but it did cross my mind that foreign residents (the target market) would not be able to understand what was being said. I recalled how when I travelled overseas I could understand very little of what people said to me in English. The ad was played on a Japanese-language radio broadcast, which would not be understood by foreign nationals wanting to learn Japanese, and was utterly pointless. It then struck me that there were similarities between this curious radio advertisement that was unable to convey its message to its target audience and my attitude to things when I worked in the factory.

In the factory, I would dutifully perform the task in front of me (device manufacture). However, having almost no interest in what lay beyond that (how customers would actually use our products), my attitude was that as long there were no problems in my field of vision, everything was fine. As for that radio commercial, insofar as an amateur like myself could tell, there was nothing wrong with the commercial itself (the product). And yet, considering the target audience (foreign nationals), I felt that the commercial should probably not have been in Japanese, and that a medium other than radio would have been more suitable. I don’t know how the advertisement came to be so off the mark, but I imagine that for its creators, the means (the process of creating the advertisement/the product) became the end.

I believe that if the creators of the ad had raised their sights a little higher (been able to imagine the target audience), things would have turned out differently.

Different Perspective

These days I work with bespoke devices, which often involves attending product installations to brief clients, and speak directly with the clients who will actually be using our products. Every day I am reminded how knowing what kind of people will use a device and what they will use it for makes my job rewarding.

It’s great to be able to see clients using products I was involved with. I believe my sights are set somewhat higher now that I am able to consider matters this way. However, you must be careful not to raise your gaze so high that you become self-important! Like anything, it’s important not to overdo things.

In fact, I still have a lot to learn, and there’s still a lot that I can’t do. I encounter new problems every day. However, I believe that whenever I do encounter a problem, as long as I make a habit of returning to first principles and asking myself ‘Who is this for?’ so that my gaze does not fall too low, I will be able to produce a good result.

Finally, I should stress that this column was not intended as a criticism of factory environments. I learned from experience that in factories and other workplaces where there is a division of labor between manufacturing processes, one tends to lose sight of later steps in the production process (and ultimately of the client). It struck me that even in a factory, by understanding the next step in the process (and ultimately, the client), you can improve things.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

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