Lessons Learned on the Way to Becoming Japan’s #1 Productivity Software Company

I recently read “Only Thinking About the Team” by Cybozu CEO Yoshihisa Aono. He talks candidly and personally about what he learned on the path to becoming one of Japan’s top software companies. His small startup team went from working out of a one room condo “to the verge of death,” to an IPO within three years. Today, Cybozu has over 60,000 clients in Japan and the United States including its no-code cloud-based application building platform kintone. This is an interesting business book from a different culture and mindset. I found it particularly timely in many ways, but specifically Mr. Aono’s focus on the importance of facts.

Mr. Aono learned from his mistakes including a mergers and acquisition spree that left him feeling he “didn’t know what the company was anymore.” A constantly evolving, reflective, dedicated, and open-minded engineer and businessman, he read everything he could find about business. He kept a notebook with 700 topics to organize his thinking and learning. “The tuition,” he says, “was not cheap.” But it was worth it. This post will share some of his learning with you.

Recognize facts and value them. Communicating is hard. Getting sidetracked by interpretations can easily become emotional, derail things, and go nowhere. One way to avoid this is learning to distinguish facts from feelings. Facts are information that can be confirmed by one of the five senses. Sticking to facts, rather than interpretations when exchanging information, results in more productive conversations.

For example:

The thermometer says 90°. That’s a fact.

I say, “It’s a very comfortable day.” You say, “It’s hot.” Those are our interpretations.

Focusing on facts enables companies to escape meaningless discussions and unproductive meetings. Cybozu held training sessions about how to distinguish truth from interpretation. When a decision appears difficult, they ask themselves, what are the facts? They would generally see that the situation is not as confusing as it originally appeared. A constructive discussion is the process of confirming each fact, understanding each other’s views, and detailing next steps for getting closer to the reality of the goal.

The most important step in meeting goals is the next one.  The end result of goal-setting is to close the gap between the ideal (goal) and the reality (where things are now). Both of these must be well defined: where are we now? where do we want to be?

Achieving the goal can be a long-term situation, often daunting when looked at from the point of view of the end. However, defining one step at a time, with the most important step being the next one, will be more achievable. The future is an accumulation of all of the next five minutes . The steps can be detailed in the form of a map to share the vision and goals for the project.

100 people. 100 reasons. Everyone has their own working style and is motivated by different things. This is especially true in today’s diverse companies. Understanding a person’s reasoning and approach to their task can go a long way to help manage for maximum motivation. Peter Drucker looks at three ways of how people view their role with this stonecutter example:

1 ) I’m making a living

2 ) I’m doing the best job at stone cutting in the country

3 ) I’m building a cathedral

Understand everyone’s “why”. Motivation is the passion that propels the march to fulfillment. It’s shown to be strongest in people who are being counted on. Answering to the group is a powerful enticement to go above and beyond. Which brings us to teams.

Teams are how people grow. A team is a stage where every individual can shine, since each is working in their area of excellence .Collaborative software helps teams reach their maximum potential, and is more important than ever with the growing importance of flexible team structure. It’s the infrastructure for a team-based society. Groupware is the workplace. Team members can communicate with each other, stay updated on progress, and continually contribute. A well functioning team shares advice, offers feedback, and accepts responsibility when things go wrong.

For example:

Useless: The recession ruined our year.

Useful: Our failure to foresee the recession and plan for it ruined our year.

In 2011, Cybozu released kintone, a cloud solution that transforms how teams manage data, projects and operations. “We didn’t create Cybozu to raise sales. We created it because we believe in groupware,” says Mr. Aono. He believes everyone will join a team somewhere, and that countless results will be achieved by countless teams. 

Different forms of contribution help people reach their individual potential. Society can be like that too with people being recognized for what they’re good at and integrated into a team where that skill helps meet the team goal. If we reinterpret society this way, it changes everything.

I manage teams tasked with meeting goals in unique ways. I also use their input to determine and tell a company’s most meaningful stories.

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