As my latest Japanese journey comes to an end, I've spent some time reflecting on why it is that I love coming to this amazing country. What sets it apart from the other places that I've visited, particularly around the Asia-Pacific region? I decided that a big part of what I enjoy so much is the Japanese culture.
I realised that the culture has been built on hundreds of years of history, yes some of it dark, and it seems to be ingrained. The Japanese are proud people, proud of their country, their heritage, their customs. They are incredibly respectful of each other, of visitors, of the elderly. Cleanliness, order, presentation are all so important - there is virtually no graffiti, no rubbish and few rubbish bins because they are respectful enough to take rubbish home.
So what is culture? Some people say "it's the way we do things round here". In fact, more to the point, it's what we do round here when no one is looking that is a closer definition of culture. To that end, culture is actually determined by the values we hold, whether we live those values, and what the consequences are if we stray from them.
You see our values represent our internal or moral GPS - they guide us in our decision making to get us where we want to go. A strong culture requires a strong set of values and an equally strong determination to set our course by them. In fact all of the qualities I love about Japan's culture are in fact their values on display; respect, national pride, order, interdependence on others and team work. All taught from the earliest of age, over generations.
Values are important at all levels. As individuals we have values (are you consciously aware of yours?), organisations have values (hung on the walls yet rarely lived) and countries have values, to name a few. Whether individually, as teams, organisations, or indeed nations, if we are to be successful we must determine our values, be aligned and agreed on them, passionately live them and use them to guide us to success. There must also be consequences for not living our values or they simply die a natural death.
Where we do not align in our values, or we have a values mismatch, we have conflict, as ultimately our values are on show via our behaviours. Misaligned values in couples may lead to break ups, employees whose personal values are not aligned with that of the organisation lead to conflicts within the workplace, countries that are not clear on their values or who do not respect the values of others may end up with political, social, civil, or religious unrest and even war.
So what are Australia's values? Freedom? Multiculturalism? A fair go, mate? If these are our values then why do we have asylum seekers locked up, why are we in fear of home invasions in Melbourne, why is there racism, why can't we live side by side with indigenous people and why is there no gay marriage?
If we don't know what we value, if we can't communicate our values clearly and if we can't align on them at least at some fundamental level, then no political party will be able to lead us successfully.
In your own life, in your business life and as a country, it's time we took the flashy values with their shiny pictures off the walls and put them into our lives.
Do you have your internal GPS switched on to guide you? What are your values? What should Australia value?