Japanese inspiration for success

In the Tantamount studio, while we don’t boast more than a superficial knowledge of things Japanese, there are several concepts that we’ve come across that offer glimpses of the traditions and culture and which we think are worth considering in the context of running a small business.
In this article, we take a look at Kaizen, Hansei, Ikigai, Kintsugi, and Wabi-Sabi, and how they can influence and enhance business practices.


The term kaizen is usually translated as "continuous improvement" or “change for the better”, making it a fundamental concept for business success. There’s rather more to it than general improvement, though, as the term brings with it the idea of improvement being both gradual and methodical. In Japanese culture it is applied to all aspects of business, from streamlining of processes, to employee training, to improved efficiencies, to better workplace relationships. A small improvement in any of these areas may have a knock on effect and lead to other improvements.

In English, the concept is often linked with the notion of the compounding effect, whereby a 1% increase each day will lead, over the course of a year, to a final value 37 times the original.



Hansei is the practice of “self-reflection.” It links to the idea that you can’t solve a problem until you recognise it. Understanding ourselves and our organisations better, and acknowledging and reflecting on our mistakes and shortcomings, allows us to learn from them, avoid repeating them and therefore improve.

To do this, there needs to be a safe space where employees are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and admit to mistakes. If the workplace culture is all about finger-pointing and blame, this is impossible.



Ikigai is akin to “raison d’être” – the thing that gives an individual a sense of purpose in their life or makes them feel fulfilled or motivated. While some would say that this is something for the individual to take care of in their leisure hours, the close relationship, and frequent overlap, of work and home life in our digitally connected society means that it is something that employers should also consider.

Key factors that can contribute to ikigai include work being seen to be meaningful, and staff valued and treated as individuals. And it’s not just good for staff: if ikigai is apparent in the lives of your workforce, there is likely to be less staff turnover, better employee relations and higher production.



In the west invisible repairs are valued highly, but the Japanese art of Kintsugi, or “golden repair”, entails mending broken pottery using lacquer or resin mixed with powdered precious metals – gold, silver or platinum – so that the repair becomes a noticeable feature: rather than hiding the flaw, it is emphasised. These imperfections are seen to add value and meaning to the object as they acknowledge its history and character and remind us that change is unavoidable.

The obvious lessons that can be learned include reconsidering our attitude to sustainability and encouraging the move away from built-in obsolescence and consumerism. Beyond that, though, Kintsugi also teaches us that mistakes can be transformed into opportunities for growth. If a customer is unhappy, for example, and we respond humbly and do our best to resolve the issues, a negative review can actually result in a positive public experience.




Closely linked to Kintsugi, Wabi-Sabi is an aesthetic philosophy that centres on the “acceptance of imperfection and impermanence”. It is based on three ideas: nothing lasts forever; nothing is ever finished; and nothing is ever perfect. Through recognising these truths, we can learn to appreciate the natural cycle of growth and decay and find beauty in the transient nature of the world.

Change can be one of the most difficult things businesses have to cope with, but wabi-sabi reminds us that it is part of the natural order. Rather than racing to reach an end result, we can try to accept and enjoy the journey, celebrating milestones and achievements along the way and encouraging authenticity, with all the associated imperfections.

This article can do no more than offer a few thoughts based on an imperfect understanding of these five profound Japanese concepts. But whatever type or size of business you are involved in and whatever your role there, it is worth thinking about some of the ideas involved: personal reflection, gradual improvement, acceptance of change, appreciation of the imperfect and a sense of purpose.

The universal nature delights in change
― Marcus Aurelius

At Tantamount we pride ourselves on our curiosity, and we enjoy learning about other cultures, other industries and other businesses. And that stands us in good stead to help our clients find the right language and medium to communicate their message to their various stakeholder groups. Do get in touch for a chat about your brand communications – we’d love to learn more about you and your organisation!