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Taiichi Ohno’s “Workplace management” Opening chapter

Taiichi Ohno’s “Workplace management” starts with a chapter called “The Wise Mend Their Ways.”

This is another poor translation, but I have been procrastinating in translating this sentence due to the expected complexity. Recently I read some books on Confucianism which helped me understand this phrase better. And as I understood, I wondered if Ohno left some messages for us to think about.

To begin, I will highlight that this is just half of the sentence. The whole sentence will be;


【君子】drastically change its methods or attitude, while the 【小人】pretends to change on the surface.

Taiichi Ohno’s “Workplace management” first chapter starts with many proverbs and quotes.

“Even a thief is right three times out of ten.” [Japanese proverb]

“The wise man should not hesitate to correct themselves.” [Confucianism]

“The morning’s orders are revised in the afternoon.” [Book of Han]

And the sentence that we are talking about on this page.

It is excellent to use proverbs and quotes when the audiences are in a similar group. Based on this book’s frank tone, I guess this was initially prepared for a speech for senior managers in Japan. Without understanding their background, it is not easy to understand the meaning. Most phrases are becoming unfamiliar even to current Japanese.

But why did Ohno choose this sentence as the first chapter’s title?

I thought about two reasons.

First, he liked the word 豹変.

I would translate this word as a drastic change. It could mean sudden or complete change. Definitely not “mend.” The first symbol 豹 means a leopard. The second symbol 変 implies change. Some say the differences in the dark spots of the leopard’s fur represent that drastic change. Or when the fur change during the season, the spots becomes vivid and beautiful. Some say it is the change in the leopard’s attitude. Whatever it is, this word describes a powerful change. Ohno probably wanted to put focus on such a drastic change.

Second, the latter part of the sentence is a hidden message.

Confucianism was a popular read until World War II in Japan. In school or privately, people read as part of common sense. This phrase that Ohno used is famous, and so is the second part. The second part is “【小人】pretend to change on the surface.” Compared to the “drastic change,” some only pretend to follow by copying the “surface.” By picking this phrase, Ohno refers to this comparison made by Confucius.

So how would I translate the other words, 【君子】and 【小人】?

To be continued…

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