Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

A facinating story in this month's Fast Company magazine, entitled Is Your Boss a Psychopath? The story hits a lot of interesting points, but near the bottom is a phrase that, in reading the story, had already occurred to me:

"She points out that psychopathy has a dramatically lower incidence in certain Asian cultures, where the heritage has emphasized community bonds rather than glorified self-interest."

My last boss here in Japan, an Australian, was in fact a psychopath. No doubt. I have met a couple of others here in Japan, where, because their behaviour is so antithetical to the cultural norms, it is fairly easy to identify them, whereas I am afraid that in the U.S. they are seen as perhaps a little on the extreme end of of things, but their qualities are often identified as good ones. In Japan, individualism in general is frowned upon, and the ruthless disregard that sociopaths/psychopaths have for the pain that their actions might cause society or others is much less acceptable. I would, incidentally, score my last boss as a 16 on the quiz they give in the magazine, which means 'be very afraid,' which I was.
A couple of years ago, when I was between jobs, my housemate and I were brainstrorming ways to make money. Our dot.com had just gone bust (the result, I should add, of our CEO's psychopathy being discovered, rather late, by a company which was just about ready to acquire us) and we were broke. There was, however, a big shitload of Hermann Miller office furniture still sitting in our former company's office, that was going to get tossed out. So, I put two and two together and suggested that we call the company that another of our hosemates had just quit, because they were planning to move offices, and might need office furniture. I won't take all the credit, but I thought that I deserved some. I had to, however, make a quick trip to San Francisco to take the oral exam for the Foreign Service, and couldn't take part in the hauling of furniture. I got back and found that my housemate had made around 500,000 yen on the deal. I was waiting for my cut, which should by rights have been half minus the costs of labor and the rent a truck. He handed me 10,000 yen.
I had thought that we were friends, and I guess that we really were. But his ability to completely screw me on the deal, and to separate that and say 'it's only business, mate,' which he did in fact say, shocked me. 'It's only business,' is a distinctly western concept, and not one that I like. It is akin to saying "in this realm of unbridled competition, any behaviour is acceptable, and you are a wanker for getting upset. Don't take anything that happens in this realm personally." At least in one area, I really like the value that Japanese put on personal behaviour, and the real lack of tolerance for this type of behaviour. To some extent, it means that Japanese are better at concealing it, but the real stigma attached to it, and the professional and financial disincentives, mean that there is less of it here.
Yeah, I found something I like about Japan.

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