Looking back on 2020, people’s behaviors changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people would have been surprised to learn that the environment will change people’s values and behaviors so much.
Especially in the area of communication, online meetings and telework became popular, and the business environment changed significantly. In the meantime, various misconceptions and delays in the information transfer and the harm are generated.
How should we face the challenges of contemporary communication? We spoke to Professor Akie Iriyama of the Graduate School of Business Administration, Waseda University (Waseda University Business School), the author of Global Standards Management Theory in 2019, and asked about the role of dialogue in the field of business.
・Dialogue makes implicit knowledge formal
・Empathy is needed to advance dialogue. Empathy comes from the five senses.
・Empathy-based “future offices” and “decision-making methods”
・If there is no reason, people will not gather. “Entertainment” is needed in the post-COVID-19 reality
Professor at the Graduate School of Business Management, Waseda University
He graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Keio University, and completed a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Economics, Keio University. Iriyama obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Management in the United States in 2008 after working primarily in consultations with motor vehicle manufacturers and national and international government agencies at Mitsubishi General Research Institute. He became an assistant professor at New York State University’s Buffalo School of Business in the same year. He has been holding his current position since 2013. He has published papers in major international management journals, including Strategic Management Journal. A major book he has authored is Global Standards Management Theory (Diamond).
Dialogue makes implicit knowledge formal
――First, what is the management theory addressed in your book?
Iriyama: “I think that the management theory is a drawing of the intrinsic behavioral principles of humans. It is an abstraction of the mechanisms that humans have in common, such as the desire for approval to ‘want to be connected with someone,’ the physical desire to ‘earn money,’ and the survival instinct to ‘eat something delicious.’”
The mechanistic basis is that “humans should act in this way under certain circumstances.” If the management theory is stuck, it explains how people think and act. This is because it is people who do business and management. The events that occur in the society at that time change, but since theory is quite universal, it can be used as a platform for thinking.
――Can management theories help even during COVID-19, where the business environment has changed drastically?
Iriyama: “Of course, they can. The point is that the theory is not the correct answer. Since human thought is complicated, the correct answer cannot be found easily. However, people have to think for themselves and the organization. In that sense, the theory is an “axis or benchmark” because it scientifically indicates that “although it is not absolutely correct, people and organizations are inherently prone to this.” Consider theory as an axial benchmark for thinking. Various things are happening in the world, including the COVID-19 pandemic, are they not? To understand the events that occur in the world and to think about solutions, we need an axis of thinking. To do this, I think you will have written down what you would like to know after reading my book Global Standards Management Theory.”
――Global Standards Management Theory is a fairly thick book; which chapters should you read?
Iriyama: “I want you to read from where you like. This book covers almost perfectly the major management theories that are prevalent in the world. I do not have to read all of it, but I would like to turn the table of contents in parallel to read the paragraphs that are now necessary and interesting.
There was one point that I wanted you to be aware of:, ‘after reading this book, talk to someone about what you thought and felt.’ You can read chapters 1 to 2. After reading, enter into dialogue.”
――It won’t help unless we all read it?
Iriyama: “Reading alone is helpful because it is a universal rule of people and organizations. However, by telling someone about the theory, it should be sublimated to something more meaningful.”
Iriyama: “This is because you can call theories into a language for your inside. The person’s heads are filled with implicit knowledge (subjective, nonverbalized knowledge). However, if we engage in dialogue, we have to spin it in our own words; we can transform it into formal knowledge (knowledge that makes tacit knowledge linguistic and enables us to share it with others) through that process. People often realize that they were thinking about something like this only after talking.”
――I see. As you break it down so that others can understand, it becomes verbalized like “This means that.”
Iriyama: “That is right. If a theory becomes a common language, you can use it to talk to everyone and make a leap in your thoughts. Whenever an innovation occurs, new words are born. The moment the word snaps in, it becomes “This!” We have to express it in new words because it’s something that’s not there yet. Therefore, the dialogue after knowing the theory is the most important thing.”
――What issues can be solved through this verbalization process?
Iriyama: “Several issues can be solved, but as an example, people with different backgrounds can discuss each other.
For example, a variety of companies and departments may not be able to engage in conversations. That is just a concrete discussion on the ground. In other words, I have no common language. However, if you lower the resolution and abstract it, the essence is quite the same. They will notice that ‘Everyone is worried about the same thing.’
While writing, I was hoping that Global Standards Management Theory can become a common language between different industries and departments.”
Empathy is needed to advance dialogue. Empathy comes from the five senses
――Are there any important factors in advancing the dialogue? You mentioned earlier that “a common language is necessary.”
Iriyama: “To proceed with the dialogue, empathy is necessary. As Ikujiro Nonaka of Hitotsubashi University says in his SECI model, a worldwide theory, the circulation of knowledge is vital, and when people who have rich tacit knowledge interact with each other and empathize with each other, saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ knowledge becomes linguistic, doesn’t it?”
――Certainly. If you don’t empathize, the conversation will stop, right?
Iriyama: “Yes. What is interesting is that empathy and verbalization circulate. The sympathy gives rise to formal knowledge, and the formalization gives rise to sympathy. It is not a story of which comes first, like the chicken or the egg parable.”
――Recently, communications using Zoom and other means have become a matter of course. Is it possible to create sympathy even in digital form, without meeting directly?
Iriyama: “It is possible to some extent, but I do not think digital alone is perfect.
This is because humans grasp their surroundings through their five senses, and empathy comes from their five senses. However, modern digital technologies can only cover vision and hearing. The remaining senses of taste, smell, and touch cannot be stimulated.
For example, if I were eating something very delicious, I would like to convey this flavor and fragrance to people in the distance, but I cannot convey it digitally.”
――Digital alone has limitations. Zoom drinking also hears a voice stating that the other party’s feeling is unknown.
Iriyama: “I think that the necessary experience through five senses, including taste, smell, and touch, will be the value of a realistic field. Conversely, everything that can be felt by vision and hearing alone will be replaced by digital.”
――Specifically, what kind of experiences will lead to empathy?
Iriyama: “To begin with, it is likely that a diet or lunch uses the senses of taste, smell, and touch. Eat delicious food together. I think sports and camping are also good. BBQ and burning fires are also recommended. If you talk to someone using the senses of taste, smell, and touch, empathy and trust are likely to arise. Once empathy is born, I think the story will play even if it is digital only for a while. However, they become unable to empathize at any time. I think that real and digital transfers will be required in the future.”
Empathy-based “future offices” and “decision-making methods”
――How will the office, a representative of the real-working area, change in the future?
Iriyama: “The physical office should be a ‘venue for dialogue and empathy’ through five senses as remote work will be popular. Thus, the office may allow the person to enter and exit once in a month or a week.
Extremely speaking, everyone should camp or BBQ on the day they come to work (laugh). They should eat delicious food, hug, and shake hands. I think it is necessary to establish a venue for discussing ‘how to run the company in the future’ while stimulating the five senses.”
――Everyday tasks are digital, while decision-making and communication are analog; therefore, we get separate worlds.
Iriyama: “Yes. However, on a case-by-case basis, some tasks and people should be completed by vision and hearing alone. For example, in the Silicon Valley, the start-up, which is just one or two times in reality, is getting huge funding. They are able to move their business online only and empathize with VC. However, it is now that these projects are really successful.”
――Surprisingly. VC first met face-to-face to decide the investment destinations.
Iriyama: “Some VCs have high digital density. For example, Miyata, the head of Scrum Ventures in Silicon Valley, told us that he had been using Zoom before the COVID-19 pandemic. I hear that the first meeting with entrepreneurs will be definitely online.
First, it seems that it is easier to turn down the project online. If you think “there is no case for this investment,” you will be able to release NG relatively easily online. Movement time can also be reduced, and distant entrepreneurs can meet. Once you have broken the ice and feel good, you will have multiple online meetings, and you will have the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting for the first time before deciding on investment.”
――Digital tools can also be used to make important decisions.
Iriyama: “Around that area is a frontier, and everyone is searching for what is right. To what extent can the digital assure empathy? How much time, frequency, and density are needed to foster empathy is still a case-by-case study.
However, I think the value of meeting various people will remain in the future. This is because there is information that cannot be retrieved digitally, and there is implicit knowledge that does not appear to be trusted. Above all, I cannot feel that the five senses are not realistic, though it is repeated.”
――Do you have any other tips to foster empathy?
Iriyama: “For example, short movies can be used more frequently. ‘This is the world we want to create in three to forty years,’ says the message, which is summarized in about five minutes. One of the richest media representations of vision and hearing is movies. It is very difficult to make a long film, but the cost of short movies is also decreasing; therefore, it should be out of alignment. For example, soft banks have recently made a variety of movies. I think it would be good if we spread out the room and foster empathy in a realistic place when we meet key persons.”
If there is no reason, people will not gather. “Entertainment” is needed in the post-COVID-19 reality
――Vaccines have been developed, and the convergence has only begun to be apparent. How will the world change in the future?
Iriyama: “AI, RPA, and DX will undoubtedly be implemented as essential technologies in the future. This way, existing know-how can be brushed up, allowing people and organizations to access a wide range of knowledge.
However, humans can only do the work of combining knowledge to create new things while failing. I think that humans will focus on tasks that they can only do in the future.”
――By that time, you say dialogue and empathy will become important.
Iriyama: “Yes, meeting people in reality should become more important. Even so, remote work and e-commerce would be prevalent, leading to the completion of work and life at home. I think people would need a reason to move.
From now on, people will not gather just because it is convenient. They will gather because they have something interesting, something they can empathize with, and something fun. That is why sports, live performances, camping, and other forms of entertainment are important. We need a place to foster empathy; so, we should build campgrounds in one of Japan’s leading office districts, Otemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho (laughs). Marunouchi, which is already one of the best gourmet cities in the world, should be strengthened further. Since there are a wide variety of people in Tokyo, I think many people will gather in search of things that can only be obtained by the five senses, such as entertainment and gourmet, and as a result, there will surely be more good dialogue.
・The process of dialogue allows us to make implicit knowledge.
・Digital technology can only cover vision and hearing. It is unable to stimulate the remaining senses of taste, smell, and touch.
・Everything that can be covered by vision and hearing alone is replaced by digital.
・The physical office becomes a “venue for dialogue and empathy through the five senses.”
・Various people gather in search of things that can only be gained through the five senses, and as a result, there will surely be more good dialogue.