It was during a Japan-U.S. Businessmen's Conference in Hakone. The subject was the dollar yen exchange rate and Akio and American Treasury Secretary Blumenthal were locked in a fierce debate. Mr. Blumenthal was insisting that Japan was forcing the low yen rate and Akio was thoroughly opposed to this suggestion. Their exchange was so fierce that other members of the Japanese delegation were somewhat dumbfounded and thought it inappropriate to address the Americans, who were guests, in such a manner.
According to Japanese thinking, one should show restraint and not show opposition so openly. However, what surprised the Japanese side most was what came next. In the television interview that followed, both Akio and Mr. Blumenthal were extremely cordial and joking with each other. For Japanese thinking at that time, this was a really unbelievable spectacle.
"Amongst the Japanese, there are many that think that people can not be friends if their opinions conflict. However, Americans think that if someone is a friend then it is OK to debate and share one’s opinions." (MADE IN JAPAN)
Akio felt that the Japanese restraint that hindered their ability to speak out clearly was a character defect and pointed out that that is why they lacked friends in the world. In order to understand each other it is important to debate issues with people of differing opinions, and he felt we should challenge these opinions on a daily basis.Speaking with People of Differing Opinions Leads to Progress
Akio respected people with differing opinions. You could even say he greatly valued them because he believed that little progress could be made surrounded by people with the same opinion. In line with this philosophy, Sony was a company made up of a diverse group of people.
Both Akio and Mr. Ibuka strongly believed that if people all thought the same way, it would not lead to the development of good products, and so the company created an atmosphere that made it extraordinarily easy to express opinions. They didn’t even mind having open disagreements in front of others, so some people probably thought they didn’t get along, but in fact there was a deep trust between them. The relationship between Akio and Norio Ohga was the same. Moreover, at Sony you would never see the cliques and old boy networks so often found in other companies.
Akio was the type of man that spoke frankly to anyone and who created an atmosphere where others could also speak openly.
Nobuyuki Idei says, “You felt that you could talk to Mr. Morita about anything, and when I was a cocky younger, I was allowed to speak out. That was really good because he didn’t like people that wouldn’t speak their mind."
As a frank speaker, Akio made many friends. Mr. Blumenthal was one such case, as was Henry Kissinger. In the case of Henry Kissinger, they two were seated together at a party and he was drawn to Akio as he spoke out in his usual straight manner.Vigilant Efforts in Communication
Akio thought communication was of the utmost importance and he was vigilant to work hard in maintaining it. Tetsuro Matsumoto (International Affairs and Research Division) was a young staff member that was a good skier and English-speaker, and he attended a conference in Davos and received instructions from Akio.
"During breaks he thought we should talk with the various representatives, while enjoying skiing, and at the time I was the only English-speaker that was good at skiing, so I got to take part in different kinds of conversations."
To have good communication, you should have a topic in common, and on this occasion it was skiing. Akio took this kind of communication very seriously and on his office computer he input the hobbies and birthdays of some 7,000 friends and acquaintances. On any occasion, he would then send a note or a card.
"One thing I learned from Akio was to send hand-written cards. Akio didn’t leave it to his secretary, but wrote them all himself, and there were a lot. He would think of some text that would make the receiver happy and write it by hand. I think that was amazing."(Nobuyuki Idei)
From:The Sayings of Akio Morita, published by Sony Magazines.