Situational Adjustment: Mastering the Art of Different Cultures

I attended the 8th Annual Japan US Innovation awards hosted by the U.S. Asia Technology Management Center of Stanford University and the Northern California Japan Society early this month (July’18).  This event recognizes pioneering companies that honor innovation and economic opportunity between the two countries.  It featured a keynote speaker,  award ceremonies, and fascinating panel discussions with the award recipients.

You can find out more about the companies recognized at the Japan US Innovation Awards event here.

The event began with a fireside chat between the Director of U.S. Asia Technology Management Center , Dr. Richard Dasher and the CTO of Nest, Dr. Yoky Matsukoa.  Nest is is a Google company that makes connected devices  for the home.  Dr. Matsuoka has both an impressive and unique background. Born and raised in Japan, her love for tennis brought her to the United States.  Ultimately, she made a pivot to teaching robotics after completing a PhD from MIT.  She was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and subsequently the University of Washington.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. 
–Steve Jobs

Dr. Matsuoka’s sports to academia to business leads many to ask how and why did she make the decision to change her career.  But as she stated a famous quote from Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”  This to me means that we do not have to have a well-thought out, perfect plan; rather we should follow our hearts and dreams.  If we do that thoughtfully and trust ourselves,  our life’s story will will come together beautifully.  Dr. Matsuoka’s career is certainly no exception.  Her love for tennis cultivated her passion for human motion which has been instrumental in her robotics career.

Having been born in Japan and now working as an executive in Silicon Valley has its challenges but — as I’m sure Dr. Matsuoka may agree — it also has its rewards. Both environments have starkly different cultures, especially for women.  When asked by the audience how she manages this, she coined the expression “situation adjustment.” That is, when she needs to be vocal and direct she can play that card effectively. Conversely, when she’s in Japan, she understands the cultural idiosyncrasies there and knows how to communicate while respecting traditional cultural norms of her native country.

Thank you Dr. Matsuoka for your inspiration and sharing your personal story with the audience.  Knowing one’s environment and adjusting how you behave is a work of art that you have certainly mastered.  I am hopeful that more people who are bridges between Japan and the US will embrace this concept with the intention of creating opportunity and innovation between the two countries.






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