Joseph Lee's Perspectives
My view of the world
September 3, 2008--Sumo Wrestling and Corporate Culture

                The news from Japan isn’t that great.  The Prime Minister quits because he can’t handle political heat and three Russian wrestlers are linked to marijuana use in the last month (Japan Times).  We only wish in the States that our President would quit so easily, but then we refrain from such wishes because that would put Mr. Cheney in power.

                Back to the land of the Rising Sun.  Scandals in the world of sumo wrestling is nothing new.  There had been widespread rumors of match fixing from years ago, and the treatment of newer wrestlers (deshi, which could be roughly translated into little brothers) caused public uproar when one was beaten to death by the older stable mates, all under the approving eyes of the stable master.

                Lou Gerstner of IBM once said, “Culture is what people do when no one is watching.”   The culture of the sumo world is secrecy, cronyism, totalitarianism, and entitlement.  In a sense, it is probably not much different from the world of professional sports in the US.   But hate it as we might, the encroaching eyes of public scrutiny have made almost every professional sporting organization in the US more open, more accountable, and in the end, less secretive.

                When no one was watching, Barry Bonds shot himself up with steroids.  When no one was watching, an NBA ref made bets on his league’s games.  When no one was watching, sumo wrestlers beat their own stable brother into submission and death, just to teach him a lesson. 

When no one was watching, a corporate executive at Kanebo told his accountants to massage the numbers.  When no one was watching, President Bush decided to spy on his own citizens.  When no one was watching, our government tortured prisoners who had never been tried for any crime.

Culture is a scary thing, but mainly it comes from people watching their own bosses and others around them.  Last month, the Japan Sumo Association, for the first time in history, fired—expelled—a sumo wrestler for possession of marijuana.  Certainly, none of the senior members of the Association had ever done marijuana.  But perhaps they did worse—they showed their successors how to behave like tyrants.   The culture did not deteriorate because of the new wrestlers from Russia.   It deteriorated because while the new wrestlers watched their bosses, no one was watching them.  

2008-09-03 08:52:29 GMT
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