By Liu Ru
The father of Japan’s capitalist economy is Shibusawa Eiichi (1840-1931), a highly respected Japanese industrialist. Guided by his study of Confucius’ Analects, Shibusawa brought Western capitalism to Japan, but with a core emphasis on morality and business ethics.
In this series, we look at Shibusawa’s philosophy and understanding of Confucius’ teachings, which guided the creation of Japan’s modern economy.
We often hear of graduates with excellent academic results who fail at job interviews, or who aren’t valued or utilised in their company.
While these graduates might feel perplexed and frustrated, there is a reason why the company doesn’t seem to value them as much.
In his book the Analects and the Abacus, successful businessman and capitalist Shibusawa Eiichi explained how managers choose workers for the job, and how they utilise their employees’ talents.
If graduates can understand Shibusawa’s philosophy from a manager’s viewpoint, this can save them a lot of heartache and help them score their dream job.
Job Candidate Hired for Picking Up Pin
Fresh university graduates will go on to do their first job interviews, a nerve-wracking process where they are grilled by the company’s management to determine if they are suitable for the job.
It seems impossible to predict how the interview will go. But regardless of the questions that are fired by the interviewers, or the various “war strategies” that some interviewees employ, the key is to demonstrate an understanding of the company’s current and future needs, and how your skills and abilities can match these needs.
During this process, a crucial aspect interviewers are looking for is whether the interviewee cares about others and considers their wellbeing.
There is a story about a candidate who had just finished his job interview, and as he was about to leave the room he noticed a sharp pin on the floor. He instinctively picked up the pin to prevent others from getting hurt by it before exiting the room.
When the candidate instinctively picked up the pin on the floor, he demonstrated that he actively looked out for others around him
Much to his surprise, this small gesture touched the company’s management, who decided to employ him over other candidates with far better grades than him.
Some may find it difficult to believe that such a small gesture can have such a big impact on the job interviewers. But no matter whether this story is true or not, it highlights what interviewers value in their future employees.
Think about it: in such a critical interview that will decide one’s career, most candidates will be worrying about how they can sell themselves to the company. Their entire focus will be on themselves. How many people will be like this candidate, who instinctively considered the wellbeing of others as well, even though he had nothing to gain from it?
In such a situation, only a person of extraordinary character will still be able to consider others’ wellbeing besides his own.
When a candidate isn’t worrying about how to outdo the other candidates, when he can let go of his anxiety and be less attached to the interview outcome, he is calm and unruffled during the interview.
And when the candidate instinctively picked up the pin on the floor, he demonstrated that he actively looked out for others around him. This value must be deeply ingrained in him for him to act so instinctively. Otherwise, no matter how many books on morality and ethics one has read, if one does not put these values into daily practice, one would not even think of doing such a thing in a high-pressure situation.
This candidate wasn’t just “lucky” to find that pin on the floor during his interview, which allowed him to demonstrate his good character. In truth, this was because he consistently thought about others in his daily life. Similar opportunities will follow for such a person, no matter what he does.
This story illustrates how company managers choose their workers. Drawing from their wealth of life experience, they can identify a person’s true nature and habits from their behaviour.
As such, if all the candidates interviewed had similar GPAs, or even if the candidate’s GPA is not as competitive, companies would rather employ the candidate who was caring as opposed to the one with the highest scores.
Why is caring about others so important to companies? Let’s see what Shibusawa thought on this matter.
Choosing Employees According to How They Treat Their Family
Throughout his life, Shibusawa studied and practiced the teachings of Confucius. He read Confucius’ Analects daily, and used the wisdom gleaned from his studies to manage his businesses.
Shibusawa understood that Confucius has spoken many words of wisdom in various contexts, but his teachings ultimately boiled down to the virtues of benevolence and righteousness.
The practice of benevolence and righteousness begins very early, when one first learns filial piety toward one’s family. This is the first and most fundamental step in grooming one’s character, which is why Confucius viewed filial piety as the foundation for benevolence and righteousness.
The practice of benevolence and righteousness begins very early, when one first learns filial piety toward oneís family.
In The Analects, the second line of the chapter “Xue Er” reads:
“Master You said: It is rare to find a person who is filial to his parents and respectful of his elders, yet who likes to oppose his ruling superior. And never has there been one who does not like opposing his ruler who has raised a rebellion. The junzi (superior man) works on the root—once the root is planted, the Dao is born. Filiality and respect for elders, are these not the roots of ren (benevolence)?”
In other words, people who are filial are far less likely to create trouble for their superiors. In addition, those who dislike troubling their superiors definitely do not create chaos in society. As long as the superior man can enlighten to the essence of being a good person, he will never lose sight of the Dao, or the Way. Filial piety is the foundation for cultivating benevolence.
After reading this sentence in the Analects, Shibusawa said he came to realise the guiding principle for choosing employees—those who are conscientiously filial to their parents are also the most reliable and dependable in their work.
“No matter how gifted or capable a person is, if he treats others unkindly, and lacks the virtues of benevolence, righteousness and filiality, he will be disliked by those around him, and he will not be accepted by society.
No matter how gifted or capable a person is, if he treats others unkindly, and lacks the virtues of benevolence, righteousness and filiality, he will be disliked by those around him, and he will not be accepted by society
“Such a person will not willingly fulfil his duties, and he may even use his talents in the wrong way, creating trouble for the company and among his team members.
“Therefore, when I allocate work to my employees, I take their moral character into consideration ahead of their ability. I take note if he conscientiously cares for his parents and siblings—this is very important.
When I allocate work to my employees, I take their moral character into consideration ahead of their ability. I take note if he conscientiously cares for his parents and sibling só this is very important.
“Such a person will at least be reliable, and will not be quick to treat others poorly. He will be responsible, be willing to work hard, and be a dependable person.”
Even today, business consultants in Japan draw from Confucius’ teachings when analysing the reasons behind an enterprise’s failure or success. They believe that filiality inspires people to be grateful for one’s parents. When these people enter society, they naturally know how to care about others’ feelings, treat others with humility and respect, and listen to differing opinions.
These people are never arrogant about their abilities, but are humble enough to ask others for guidance and advice. They care about the people and society, and contribute back to society to the best of their ability.
In so doing, they will pay attention to others’ difficulties and needs, and be passionate about their careers. Success is the inevitable outcome for these people.
As for those who failed, they are the people who take a self-centred approach to solving problems. People who don’t care about or put in any effort for others will naturally be abhorred and rejected by society.
To become successful, we must remember to practice filiality and humility. If we remain self-absorbed and behave arrogantly, we will lose support and social standing in society, leading to failure.
As long as one understands this, even an average person will be recognised and valued by his company.