began and the support of our predecessors.
Konoike This Himeshima-so was located in Himeshima in the Nishiyodogawa ward of present-day Osaka, and is the residence where founder Chujiro Konoike lived in his later years. I’ve inherited this from my predecessors, and have taken advantage of the skills of construction experts to reconstruct it in Karuizawa. The plan was originally to dispose of both the building and the land, but then I had a construction expert take a look at it, and they remarked that a Buddhist altar used to be present in the bedroom’s closet.
SakitoA Buddhist altar? Inside the closet?
KonoikeThat’s right. A storeroom was located past the bedroom, so you actually passed through the bedroom to get in and out of the storehouse. So, in other words, our founder slept in front of the Buddhist altar of his predecessors acting as a sort of guard for the storeroom. The moment I heard about this Buddhist altar, I thought that I would suffer some horrible divine punishment were I to actually go ahead with tearing it down.
Sakito So, even though nowadays we have sensors and security cameras, Chujiro, as the founder of the company, took it upon himself to protect the location, didn’t he? I think that the spirit of Chujiro accompanied this reconstruction in Karuizawa, and he must be very happy to see this extraordinary environment.
KonoikeI’m also always talking about this with my wife, but I have the feeling that the founder’s will guided my actions that day.
Sakito That’s very interesting. In life and in business, we receive effective guidance like this for success.
KonoikeThat does happen at times, doesn’t it? A path opens to us naturally, and we find the way. If we take one step, we can see the next one clearly.
Sakito It’s like being guided, rather than just going with the flow, right? In my own life, there’s been a wide swing between the good times and the bad. But the world has a greater flow to it, and if I take a step back to look at the big picture, I can see my life as being inside a very large, upward-pointing arrow. When I do that, I can see that I’m doing better than I was a few years ago, even if I’m not feeling too happy with the present, and that makes me feel better. It’s just that if we demand peace of mind and stability from the beginning and want to stay there, the effect is that our lives and business get worse. With that in mind, I definitely want to try to move forward always being aware of the need to make steady progress.
KonoikeIf you think that way, you become really positive about things. Even if things get worse looking at the short term, we can definitely see growth if we back up and get a wider view of the overall direction.
SakitoRight. We gain support from the larger direction, in the same way as being guided. Even so, we can’t accomplish everything on our own, so we move ahead with help from others. Konoike has a history of many different people supporting it, as we can feel from the photo where everyone is facing away that appeared in Konoike’s 130th anniversary publication. Among all of those many backs, the one who came first was Chujiro, wasn’t it? I believe that flow of progress is very important.
KonoikeWe have what we have today due to the people who came before us. Looking back at the past like this, I feel an immense gratitude, with memories that warm my heart.
SakitoI think the feelings of that time must have provided a great deal of energy within yourself. An energy that you use to lead the way to the future. From the premise that Konoike has limitless possibilities for the future, if you capture that ever-expanding imagination to create the future, there’s nothing quite like it, is there?
KonoikeYou’re right. On the other hand, we’re not thinking about growing or expanding recklessly. But we’re also not thinking about standing still. The environment surrounding us is constantly changing. We listen to what other people outside Konoike are saying to borrow their wisdom, revising our values so that we don’t set out on the wrong path. I’ve always thought that this is extremely important.
and have the courage to create the future.
SakitoThat kind of input is really important, but on the other hand, recently there’s been a kind of person who loves receiving input a little too much. There’s no output, so they just seem to be getting input continuously and that’s it.
KonoikeYou mean like various kinds of study?
SakitoRight. In our changing world, it’s fine to have input come from a deep study of the essentials of something. But we can see that lots of companies go after only superficial aspects, and end up frantically responding to changes when they occur. I asked someone once why they were going to Silicon Valley, and they said that, basically, their boss wanted to get into fintech. Other than that, I think there are many cases where terms like RPA and DX come out, and chasing after them becomes the goal. But I think that the most important thing is having the stance and attitude of creating the future. It’s about having the spirit to change yourself, and then change the world accordingly.
KonoikeThe opposite situation, where one creates output without any input at all, is just self-satisfaction, isn’t it?
SakitoWe often talk about incorporating the needs of the market, or about releasing products with the needs of the producing company foremost in mind. Both are important, but Steve Jobs said this when I was working at Apple: people don’t know what they want. When you put something in front of them and they try using it, then they like it and they want it for the first time. The best example of this is the original iPhone released in 2007. At that time, even the best market research company wouldn’t have been able to predict the concept of removing a physical keyboard from phones. It’s important to think deeply on our own about what will be the best thing for users, rather than simply conducting this kind of research in advance. The inputs we need to think like this are so very important.
SakitoI think the KONOIKE Group is very good at creating outputs. But beyond that, I think it’s wonderful that the group can continue to leverage that strength while skillfully incorporating inputs to generate new value.
KonoikeAre you talking about proposals for new things?
SakitoYes, that’s right. It’s the discussion about how things are normally done that always gets in the way at such times... The world isn’t asking for what’s “normal.” So I really believe that proposing new value is very important.
KonoikeAs for our workplaces, we have locations where about 200 employees are present at 150 to 160 sites in Japan. The heads of each of these sites is left in charge, and they are thinking about their daily struggles as much as they can. But if we execute on our ideas in our own ways, we can achieve results that are even greater than what we thought possible. When we accumulate small successes like this, we get a sense of accomplishment and build confidence, leading us to provide proposals based on a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs. Our company has so many workplaces like this. It might be that there are quite a few opportunities for us to think about what we have to do ourselves, as you just described.
SakitoI say it a lot myself, but we have to think about our customers even more than our customers themselves do. We can do our work to the minimum level required to satisfy the customer, but it also goes beyond that. If we can identify the things that our customers have not yet realized themselves, the essential problems that exist at a deeper level, and provide something in response, then that’s naturally connected to exceeding customers’ expectations, which Konoike is always trying to accomplish.
KonoikeI’m always saying the same thing myself. Our basic style of work is essentially accepting contracts, and we need to think about why the customer has come to us. When we do so, we become able to see the things that are bothering or impeding our customers that they don’t yet see, and propose ways to fix them. This involves thinking about the background behind a request.
SakitoThat makes a lot of sense. Incidentally, when we have to provide value to a customer, people always feel a lot of anxiety, don’t they? These days we have things like social media, where people are always comparing themselves to their peers and feeling uneasy, thinking, “am I the only one who’s not able to do this?”
KonoikePeople really restrict themselves, battling an inferiority complex and thinking things like “I’m not as good as this other person at that.”
SakitoAnd when we learn that others also carry the same anxieties, we feel better, because we know it’s not just us. People who thought they couldn’t accomplish something begin to believe that they might be capable. And then, they gain a small amount of courage, thinking “yeah, let me give this a try!” They gain some courage, take action, and succeed, allowing them a small boost of confidence. This allows them to confront even more new challenges. If we are able to make our customers happy, and certainly if we are able to exceed their expectations, we begin to feel that we will try even harder.
KonoikeWhen you explain things like that, anxiety also disappears. A person is naturally capable of so many amazing things, but they can be closed off within themselves. If we can do away with this mode of thinking, we can find a fair way of showing more of our strengths. It’s sort of like saying, “if I make a mistake, please point it out.” I believe that if we can tap into this feeling of confidence in following one’s own path, the company will be even more invigorated.
and an ability to grasp the situation are very important.
KonoikeRight now I’m making time to have discussions with employees. These are one-on-one discussions that are about 20 minutes per person, and I speak with people at many different levels, both in-person and online. I’m able to convey my thoughts, and the other person has a chance to let the president know what they are thinking and feeling as well. Topics of conversation on-site tend not to reach the president, so this time is very valuable to me.
SakitoThat’s a great initiative.
KonoikeOnce when I visited a site, someone told me that they never expected to be able to meet the president, that they thought I was some sort of being that existed above the clouds. This gave me quite a shock, and I came to understand that this kind of relationship was really not good. As much as possible, I want to shorten the distance to our workplaces. During these discussions, I tell everyone that I want the time to be a time for sharing between two people. That’s preferable to me just conveying information to them in one direction, and I want everyone to be able to give me information as well.
SakitoThat’s a very important way to think about it. What kinds of results have you been getting from these sessions?
KonoikeI’ve been doing it for about two years, and felt that I’ve been closing the distance little by little. The Corporate Philosophy of “humanity” and “relationships” have been strengthening compared to the past, that much is certain. I was once speaking to someone who worked in finance and accounting. They were telling me that it’s taken for granted when they do their job without making any mistakes. And then, if they ever do make a mistake, they are reprimanded for it. They felt taken for granted, but said that anyone who can work without making mistakes for 364 days out of 365 is doing very good work. Incidentally, they said that they felt empty being chastised for a mistake on that one single day and not being acknowledged in any particular way for any of the other 364. When I heard this employee speak plainly like this, I knew they had the right of it. At Konoike, safety and quality control are important underlying factors that maintain our corporate brand, so I knew that it certainly wasn’t acceptable that they be taken for granted without us showing any gratitude.
SakitoI see. And were you able to make any subsequent changes?
KonoikeYes. We established certain measures, such as a system of commendation and the “Konoike Prize” to recognize the contribution of value. This is just one example of progress. When awarding these certificates of commendation, I heard comments like, “we’re happy to receive recognition from the president, but we’d be even happier if he came to see our actual work on-site.”
SakitoSo you’ve really achieved some positive communication from these discussions.
KonoikeAnd then, when I go around to the various sites, employees are proud to show me the work that they do. They tell me, “these are the kinds of things we do here. It’s great, isn’t it?” And I say, “Yes, it is great!” I believe that having this kind of time to speak with employees on-site has increased compared to the past.
SakitoWhat you’re doing really is a good thing. It’s so different from receiving reports on paper, isn’t it? The president goes to hear from individuals, and site employees are more motivated when the president comes to see how they work. For the president as well, the site visits present a great opportunity to access a large amount of information.
KonoikeI have a deeper understanding of the work sites, so I can feel just from the atmosphere of a place whether things are going well or whether there are some problems.
SakitoIt’s really important for a president to have that kind of sensitivity and curiosity.
is a message of faith in the potential of our people.
KonoikeOne of our business locations includes the Kashima area of the East Nippon Works of Nippon Steel. They’ve been having us do work for them from the beginning, ever since the steelworks was established over 50 years ago. In the work for that site, we have operations that control the belt conveyors, which is machinery that transports iron ore and coal freely throughout the steelworks. These belt conveyors have a rotating pulley on both ends, and numerous rollers support the central portions of the belt. Sometimes, the iron ore causes these to rust and jam up, stopping their rotation. In this state, the belt conveyor begins traveling at a much higher speed, generating a high level of friction, and this friction can lead to fires. In order to prevent this, we walk around the sides of the belt conveyors, performing inspections by focusing our nerves on listening for the screeching sound the rollers make when they begin to rotate suboptimally. If we find any locations where things aren’t working well, we contact the maintenance division, which dispatches staff to correct the problem.
SakitoThat sounds like an enormously burdensome task.
KonoikeWell, one of the branch managers thought about how we might use technology to perform this task more efficiently, and that manager gave the on-site staff an opportunity to solve the problem. They all thought hard about it, and came up with the idea of potentially attaching a thermography camera to a drone that would be capable of detecting from the sky the heat of friction on the rollers.
KonoikeThe total length of these conveyors is very long, something in the range from 50 to 60 kilometers. So, a task that required walking that distance and listening carefully for sounds was transformed into a check that could instantly pinpoint the locations of problems. This is just one of the many examples of the various initiatives that we have begun as part of our 2030 Vision, “People, leveraging technology to reach for new heights.”
SakitoI think it’s pretty impressive that someone would have the sensitivity to detect those sounds to begin with, but it was a solution that had to involve the workers. But now with the use of drones, you can save a tremendous amount of labor through their accuracy. I think this is the kind of technological solution that needs to be applied more and more. I feel that all of the employees believe in the vision of “People, leveraging technology to reach for new heights,” and that the message shows a confidence in such possibilities.
SakitoIf we can use technology to substitute for human effort on tasks that we will continue to perform, people can then devote themselves to attempting to provide even higher levels of value.I believe that the message “Hope is something we create for ourselves” also contains the meaning of desire being something we generate ourselves, and that we must change ourselves if we want to see change in others.
KonoikeYes, I feel that it’s about technological innovation for the sake of people.
SakitoI refer to growth and innovation with respect to myself as “self-innovation.” This is a stance of learning from whatever source, be it technology or other people. I also call the intelligence involved in continuing to learn in this way “learning intelligence,” and the act of excitedly learning new things autonomously in order to increase learning intelligence “wonder learning.” I advocate these ways of thinking as I engage in various projects. All of the employees of the KONOIKE Group now certainly have a chance to grow and innovate. Being at a company that can put forth the message “People, leveraging technology to reach for new heights” truly gives each individual the motivation to reach those new heights.
down walls, and create new value.
KonoikeI was thinking, hearing this conversation, that we reach certain limits when we attempt to solve problems by ourselves. However, if we think about solving those same problems by leveraging other technologies and the knowledge of other people, combining them in various ways, we really do become able to accomplish a tremendous number of things.
This applies not only to the logistics industry, but also situations where we endeavor to solve problems by soliciting aid and knowledge from IT experts or university research institutions.
SakitoJust like you said, if your field of view is narrow, you get stuck in fixed ideas, precedents, and preconceived notions. First we have to free ourselves from these things. After that, we have to redefine for ourselves what it is that we want to do and what is being asked of us. People can become complacent in the satisfaction they gain from accomplishing something to a certain level. In order to avoid this, we have to take steps to continue to go even further beyond ourselves. We have to answer our own questions of ourselves with an eye to where we are going, while still observing the reality in front of us. This needs to go beyond armchair theorizing and proceed to trying things related to the ideas that we come up with. There are times when things go exactly as we thought they would, and times where something completely different occurs.
KonoikeThat’s a nice approach, isn’t it?
SakitoThe thing that’s nice about it is the discovery of something new. Talking to people with different values and in different industries leads to a mutual sharing of new discoveries and growth. I think the most important aspect of this becomes taking what we gain in such situations in its entirety and forming relationships to ourselves. This is called “creative intelligence,” but I think it involves the generation of new value.
KonoikeWe often hear about the right and left sides of our brains, but I think it’s the right brain that is very important in building imagination. It’s something that’s hard to accomplish even when logically accumulating information.
SakitoThat’s right. What you’ve said just now is really great. Logical thinking is necessary, but it’s also very important to engage the right sides of our brains to generate relationships with ourselves rather than simply relationships based on common practices. Flashes of inspiration are not merely coincidences. Rather, they are an instant linkage of long-forgotten experiences and extensive knowledge that we accomplish by continuous thinking about problems within our brains.
We arrive at answers that can reach even more information than the logical thinking techniques associated with the left sides of our brains, so I think that makes it even more impressive.
KonoikeI, too, have times where something pops into my head when I wake up in the morning, but I have a very hard time explaining things logically and I’m not the best speaker. I always wonder how I should approach things.
SakitoI don’t think that’s something you have to do on your own. It’s fine to have someone who’s good at it do it for you. One of our values as Japanese is to consider a person who can do anything to be the superior person. This is why we strive to overcome our deficiencies. But it’s better if we don’t think this way. For example, a tennis player in Japan might have a weak backhand, and then end up practicing their backhand technique exclusively. Conversely, in the US, a player with a strong forehand would be encouraged to practice their forehand technique exclusively. This makes that technique a formidable tool in their arsenal, and they become an incredibly strong player. Meanwhile, while our Japanese player is working on nothing but his backhand, the level of his stronger skills is dropping. It’s the same for companies.
KonoikeThank you, that makes me feel better. It’s okay to receive assistance from other people. We should exercise our strengths and get help from others to cover our weaknesses.
SakitoDefinitely. I think it’s creative. We want to create links in our minds related to an awareness of issues and problems. Even if we don’t have all the answers right away, in time we will unconsciously pick up on related information. If we can establish this to a certain extent, we can gain a flash of inspiration.
KonoikeI always have a lot of people working hard to compile the things that I say.
SakitoWe have people who can understand right-brain concepts with the right sides of their brains, but there are also quite a few people who cannot. The ability to describe right-brain concepts in a left-brain manner is a skill that is in strong demand in business workplaces. So, it follows that it’s best to have someone good at something actually do it, whether that’s you doing it yourself or asking someone to handle it for you. I recommend not being concerned about this, and making sure that the right-brain thinking is activated.
KonoikeI think you’ve just given people out there who think in a more right-brain way some confidence! (Laughter)
SakitoI’m absolutely a right-brain type myself, so I understand things by imagining them.
KonoikeWhen people are concerned only with their deficiencies and weak points, their important strengths go unused. That’s a pity isn’t it?
SakitoI feel that it’s a good idea to think of the inability to do something as just another of your characteristics.
form a better picture of our future.
KonoikeThis Himeshima-so is a place of appreciation for all of the efforts of the many people who worked under the founder. It is built with a thick floor, and the attached storehouse contained many large plates. Throughout the turbulent times of the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras, the employees were able to find some enjoyment from the food and drink that the founder provided to them here. That’s something they must have been very proud of.
SakitoThis place definitely carries the DNA of the company.
KonoikeYes. This is why having the people of today come here gives us a feeling of connecting to those who came before, transcending eras, and strengthens the sense of “humanity” and “relationships” that our philosophy describe. And by re-examining our roots, we can form a better picture of our future. I believe that this is a very important thing.
SakitoSo, it’s thinking about the past not as something that’s just “old,” but rather in the sense that what we have now is the result of the future that our predecessors created for us. As our predecessors did before us, we will also strive to draw connections with the people of the future by working to create that future ourselves. Coming to Himeshima-so, I certainly felt it was a place where someone can feel that sensation with all five senses, where one can resolve to strengthen that link to the future.
KonoikeI believe that the idea of creating the future is incredibly invigorating and enjoyable. Of course, there are always uncertainties and risks, but these lead us to being exceptionally creative, receiving feedback on our efforts, and producing results. Being granted such opportunities is truly fulfilling. We’re being given the chance to step out onto the stage and play our parts. It’s something akin to being ever more creative with our minds on the future, isn’t it?
SakitoIt’s about not just giving in to the flow of time around the world, but imaging how we want the future to be. We often hear about the problems that our senior citizens are causing in our society. If we think about why this occurs, it’s due to persons with a rich level of experience pushing that experience onto others with just a superficial methodology, which younger people see as damaging. An alternative to that approach, for example, is to take the methodology used for drone technologies at Konoike to continue to introduce new things that are consistent with the times. And it’s important to identify why such techniques are necessary. This is the so-called essential value of a solution.
SakitoIf we can take the experience of veterans and gradually convert it to apply to the new ways that younger people are doing things, we can maintain and leverage the essential parts to create a new future. That’s the link that connects them. This is why it’s so important for the people alive today to take what they have learned and also incorporate what their predecessors learned in order to convey the essential form of something.
KonoikeI’ve never actually created anything myself, and just thinking about it seems rather presumptuous. We benefit by using what our predecessors have handed down to us and created for us.
and build an exciting future.
SakitoIn the “Our Value” section in the description of the Konoike brand, one of the guidelines is “We go further than yesterday.” I think this is very important. In my talks, I often talk about how everyone is capable of growth. Therefore, we have to think of ourselves as we are today, not as how we were yesterday. Tomorrow we will arrive at a version of ourself that has grown beyond what we are today. I believe it’s very important to keep this going continuously.
KonoikeI want our company to be a place where people can engage in such an approach with enjoyment and happiness, without feeling pressured.
SakitoIf someone is very successful and has achieved both wealth and fame, and we ask them what it means to succeed in life, the answer is not money or honor. It absolutely is doing what we can as individuals to help other people. This is what makes our lives fulfilling. I want all of the employees of the KONOIKE Group to choose their own lives and feel that they have accomplished growth, however small it might be. I believe that if we are able to grow stronger today than we were the day before, it gives us a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
KonoikeWhen I go to our work sites and have people show me the various kinds of work that they do, I can certainly see some impressive examples of the skills of our craftsperson.
Incidentally, when I let people know that I think that, they will say, “Really? This is impressive?” These people are taking it for granted that they are able to perform at that level, so I want to make it very clear that what they are doing is something great.
SakitoYou’re absolutely right. It’s hard to identify our own strengths. This is why the “technology” part of the 2030 Vision, “People, leveraging technology to reach for new heights,” refers not only to technologies themselves, but also to a craftsperson’s skills. as well as ways of thinking, which are also technology of a sort. If we understand the word “technology” to have a broader definition, I think it becomes something that can truly deliver happiness to others.
KonoikeThat’s right. If we think like this, the people at our sites can see their own strengths in a new light, which gives them greater confidence and the motivation to confront more difficult challenges. It also encourages them to solve customers’ problems.
SakitoYou’re right. If we think about the words that we regularly use, it would be preferable if we don’t think of “making” others do things. Instead of making us exceed expectations in this way or making us confront new challenges, we seek to exceed expectations on our own. It becomes a matter of doing what you yourself are capable of. That’s what’s it’s all about.
KonoikeI have some words that I’ve been fond of for a long time: “extensive curiosity, boundless romanticism.” This means being curious, having big dreams, being relaxed, believing in your own abilities, and being engaged. With people being people and individuals being individuals, we travel our own paths, while of course focusing on our customers’ needs and having pride in our company and its brand. That’s the KONOIKE way and our way of thinking. I want to move forward with confidence in this policy of ours.
SakitoThe people will build their own visions based on the clear vision of the company. If we are curious, expand our imaginations, and trust in the potential of each individual, we can definitely make such a vision a reality. Not only will the company as a whole find happiness, the individuals that are supporting such an effort will lead fulfilled work and personal lives as they confront the challenges they face, and will find no greater enjoyment.
KonoikeThat’s right. I feel that, from this discussion of various topics that we’ve had today, we can see an extremely bright future for Konoike as we look to the year 2030. I personally am truly looking forward to it. Thank you very much.
SakitoI would like to thank you as well!