Friday, February 3, 2012


Quiet, I see, has been making the rounds in the past week. Not real quiet, the kind that hardly needs a book, just the talking of it, the pitching of it, the trotting of it out.

In her new book subtitled "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," Susan Cain argues that there is "a severe bias against introversion" in our society. Talking, for instance, about how our workplaces are designed, she says that they have been set up for maximum group interaction — open-plan offices without walls which results in very little privacy. A playground for extroverts. A barbaric Colosseum for those more inwardly inclined.

I don't know. I've been in densely packed cafés with music blaring where I was so intensely focused on my position in chess that I literally couldn't see or hear another thing. So it's not always a matter of space, but rather one's mental focus within it.

Edward Champion has a nice interview with her here where he pushes back at some of her neat categorizations. She does do a nice job of articulating her ideas — I guess when you've spent six years researching and writing about one subject you will know your shit.

Anyway, reading and listening to some of the discussions got me to thinking about the structure of Japanese institutions. What, for example, are Japanese companies designed for? Group consensus, or individual slave labor and paper shuffling?

Here's an example of a lay-out of a typical office from JTB's Ilustrated "Salaryman" in Japan:

The only thing I can say for sure is that Japanese offices are quiet. And that probably has more to do with the temperament of the people than the layout of the space.

I regularly pass through these mausoleums on my way to teach company classes. Sometimes there are small groups talking, but never so loudly as to interrupt or bother the work of others.

I find it interesting too that the words for both company and shrine share the character sha 社 as in kaisha and jinja.

会社     =     company

神社     =     shrine


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