Meaningless compliance is hurting productivity

April 30, 2024
by Noriyuki Morimoto

Aoto Fujitsuna, portrayed by the Edo period writer Ihara Saikaku, offered a large sum of money to a number of laborers to help find some coins he had lost in the river. When one of the laborers was found to be dishonest, falsely presenting the coins already in his possession, Aoto had the man stripped naked and spend 97 days to find the actual coins. On the other hand, the laborer who had exposed the fraud was eventually found to have been a samurai disguised as a commoner due to certain circumstances. This man was given back his samurai status.

As a common townsperson, Saikaku was strongly bound by the status order of the Edo period, which placed the samurai at the top of social hierarchy. Rather than criticizing the futile 97 days of naked toil imposed on a peer commoner, he affirmed samurai rule and expressed support for the imposition of punitive toil as an enforcement of that value system. This was the limitation of the Edo period’s townspeople culture.

In modern Japan, given that low productivity is a problem in all kinds of organizations from companies to government institutions, the root cause seems to be the folly comparable to the 97 days of forced naked toil. Organizations governed by the value order of the previous era are preventing innovation by forcing employees to perform unproductive duties in order to protect the status quo, thereby nipping in the bud the seeds of creativity for the new era.

An organization, especially a Japanese organization, is an accumulation of a vast number of rules and regulations, a system of conduct detailed in procedure manuals, and a bunch of slips, forms, and templates that are tedious to fill out. While those rules, procedures, and forms may have had meaning at their origins, many of them have become meaningless with the passage of time.

Enforcing compliance with rules and regulations that have become meaningless is always a step backward into the past, leading to stagnation and hindering progress. The productivity problem is, first, that meaningless work reduces productivity, and second, that being forced to do meaningless work undermines work ethic.


[Category /Work-Style Reform]

Noriyuki Morimoto
Noriyuki Morimoto

Chief Executive Officer, HC Asset Management Co.,Ltd. Noriyuki Morimoto founded HC Asset Management in November 2002. As a pioneer investment consultant in Japan, he established the investment consulting business of Watson Wyatt K.K. (now Willis Towers Watson) in 1990.