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The Right Use of Power

Last month I arrived at my hotel in Tokyo and was eager to have dinner, mindful of the late hour. The concierge recommended a Yakitori place just a few blocks away. She suggested that I take a taxi. I jokingly replied that if I did so in London or Paris, I would be, at best, insulted by the driver, given the short distance. She assured me it was perfectly appropriate to do so in Tokyo, and I hopped into a taxi.

End of story… Or not.

Since then, I have not stopped asking myself: Was it right to take a taxi instead of walking?

At its most simple level, I was a customer, and a taxi driver’s role is to carry people around. Even if he had been queuing for some time and was hoping for a bigger fare, the driver was given an opportunity to fulfill his purpose. In Japan, the sense of purpose is often associated with Ikigai,’ a philosophy emphasizing the meaning of life.

End of story… Or not.

In the eye-opening ‘Why is Japan sales productivity so low?(2021), McKinsey states that ‘the ‘Customer is King’ philosophy of many Japanese companies makes it very easy to justify various inefficiencies on the grounds of respecting the customer’s wishes.’ My taxi trip is a case in point. Moreover, ‘the same philosophy has also resulted in extremely complex, time-consuming, and painstaking work as companies try to faithfully meet the requirements of domestic customers.’

Could the structurally low profitability of Japanese companies compared to Western peers be linked to an advanced sense of corporate purpose relying on employees’ ikigai? Possibly. But one could then argue that low profitability is a fair price to pay for a lifestyle concept that is demonstrably associated with health and well-being.

End of story… Or not.

Such a ‘purpose-at-any-price’ approach to economics leads to an unsustainable squandering of scarce resources. Short taxi trips are a waste of a driver’s time, a waste of fuel, a cause of unnecessary traffic, and require that more taxi cars be manufactured than necessary – with no proportionate benefit to the customers. The taxi driver should have refused to take me to the restaurant, European style.

End of story… Or not.

In most places of this world, customers are culturally trained to always make the most out of their market position. But preventing purpose-driven suppliers from achieving a fair profit on their products or services represents a nefarious behavior even if sanctioned by the marketplace.

Based on these considerations, I have concluded that I abused my power as a customer by getting into that taxi. I took advantage of the market. It is not because one can that one should.

Next time, I walk.

End of story… Or not?

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