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2005年8月 2日 (火)

Long, useless meetings still a scourge at work

 僕は英辞郎を使って英語を読みまくり、インターネットラジオのNHKのラジオジャパン英語ニュース< /a>で時事英語を聞きまくってます。(^^;また、VOAでヴォイスレコーダーにDLしたMP3音声とテキストも楽しんでます。

Long, useless meetings still a scourge at work


A little over 400 years ago in midsummer, the army of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) was advancing on Odawara Castle, whose lord was Hojo Ujinao (1562-1591). Ujinao held a council of war with his senior aides, debating whether to make peace or war with Hideyoshi, or hold the castle and engage in combat.

Probably because of Ujinao's indecisiveness, the council dragged on and went nowhere. The castle came under siege, and Ujinao surrendered to Hideyoshi about three months later.



From this episode in history comes the expression "Odawara hyojyo," an idiom for a useless meeting or a conference that drags on seemingly forever. The futility of Ujinao's council of war at Odawara Castle was often exaggerated in pithy senryu poems during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Meetings that are nothing but a waste of time die hard.


Even today, bookstore shelves are crammed with how-to books on improving the efficiency of corporate meetings. Titles include: "Sugoi Kaigi" (Awesome conference), "Kaigi Kakumei" (Conference revolution) and "Nobiru Kaisha wa Kaigi ga Umai!" (Successful companies conduct meetings smartly!).

But the matter is obviously not cut-and-dried, as there are also new books that extol the virtues of traditional, long-winded meetings. I saw one book titled, "Kaigi wa Mometa Hoga Ii" (The more disagreements in a meeting, the better).


A U.S. insurance company executive once told me, "When I took up my post in Tokyo, I was astounded to realize that all meetings were scheduled by hourly slots." The executive recalled a meeting that went smoothly and could have been wrapped up 14 minutes ahead of schedule: "The meeting's moderator insisted that we spend the remaining 14 minutes chitchatting. I just couldn't believe it."

In the case of the U.S. firm Intel Corp., half-hour slots are the norm for meetings. The company even has conference rooms with lights that shut off automatically after one hour.


In retrospect, there was a time when the traditional Japanese-style meeting was touted as an opportunity for management and rank-and-file workers to share their grievances.

Executives visited from overseas to observe at firsthand how the system worked. But that was during Japan's asset-inflated economy of 1980s, and I feel as if we saw things like a vision.


Now that it's August and midsummer, meetings that drag on are not welcome. It might help if the conference room air-conditioning units were set to shut off after an hour.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 1(IHT/Asahi: August 2,2005)


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