How can we balance a "challenging attitude" with "humility"? [Makiko Shinoda x Takaya Matsuda]

We have started a new series called "HERALBONY and the Philosophy of Words," which takes a simple and thorough philosophical look at the various "words" we use every day without thinking about them.

In this series, Representative Director Matsuda and President Heralbony will continue to philosophize about words that are important to them together with opinion leaders active in a variety of fields, including business, art, welfare, and academia, in order to expand the circle of thought that will allow 8 billion "unique people" to thrive and flourish.

Continuing from last time, this time we will be philosophizing about the word "humility" with Makiko Shinoda, Director of Ale Inc.

Part 1 here >> What is the difference between "humility" and "self-deprecation"? What you should keep in mind when you fail [Makiko Shinoda x Takaya Matsuda]

To get rid of the unconscious "but"

Maki Shinoda (hereinafter, Shinoda): Last time, we talked about how the word "humility" includes "metacognition," which is the ability to view oneself objectively and flatly. I've been watching what Heralbony is working on and thinking that it is essentially very flat.

Takaya Matsuda (hereinafter, Matsuda): Thank you. Yes, maintaining a level-headed attitude is one of the things I have always valued.

Shinoda: In my mind, having equal respect for one another and being humble as an individual are almost a set. If I may say so myself, the business field that HERALBONY is involved in is, in terms of traditional values, and I'm very sorry to say this, but when it comes to inside and outside, people who tend to be positioned on the "outside" side of society are trying to create opportunities for social and economic independence in a normal, equal way.

There has been "outsider art" in the past. However, what Heralbony is trying to do seems similar to that, but it is completely different. This is difficult to explain, but I feel that there has been some unnecessary noise in the art created by people with disabilities up until now, such as "It's amazing that they can create such wonderful works despite their disabilities."

Matsuda: That nuance was definitely there. In fact, they would say "Outsider Art Exhibition," "Art Brut Exhibition," or "Disabled Art Exhibition," but they would never say "Women's Art Exhibition" or "Foreigner Art Exhibition." There is still the nuance that these are works that were created "despite" being disabled. There is always that "despite" part.

Shinoda: On the other hand, what's amazing about HERALBONY's approach is that it's completely free of those traditional nuances. Their business model is great, but I think their flat approach is the most amazing thing about them.

Although people have very different perceptions of disability, the project has been able to draw in and gain sympathy from everyone, who say it's wonderful. This is probably due to the fact that the project has a basic, equal stance.

Matsuda: I'm really happy to hear you say that. There's actually a reason why I'm so particular about making my work art that people can casually say is "wonderful!"

I come from a town in Iwate Prefecture with a population of 10,000. There were quite a few kids in my class who made fun of people with disabilities. I was always wondering what it was that those classmates would normally say was "cool." But even if you combine "welfare" and "art," it doesn't turn out that way. "Welfare" is not a popular occupation in the first place in my hometown, and even if you call it "art," no one is buying paintings.

On the other hand, I have a strong desire to own a Louis Vuitton wallet or a Lexus car. When I saw that my local classmates also responded to so-called "brands," I thought it would be good to include "welfare" and "art" under the umbrella of "brands." If that's the case, I'm sure it will resonate with my local classmates too.

Shinoda: I see! So that's the background to it.

Never leave behind "those who create value"

Shinoda: The word "brand" you just mentioned, and your attitude of spreading your brand to many people in a more casual way, may seem to be at odds with the words "sincerity" and "humility" in general, but I'm sure that in your mind, the two are connected. What are your thoughts on this?

Matsuda: For example, we try to be as transparent as possible with each and every manufacturing process, and we also try to be as transparent as possible with the compensation we give to our artists. We are constantly searching for a structure that allows everyone involved with HERALBONY, from the people who create the works and products to the suppliers who deliver them to the market, to continue their business in a happy way without exploiting them.

Shinoda: Could you tell me again how the words "honesty and humility" that are currently listed as values ​​were decided upon and shared within the company?

Matsuda: Actually, "Sincerity and Humility" is a bit unique among our company's values. The other values ​​are "Are we taking on challenges?", "Are we creating the future?", "Are we enthusiastic together?", and so on, which are values ​​that are typical of startups. "Sincerity and Humility" is what ties those three together.

Matsuda: How can we balance the startup-like momentum of "Let's go!" with an attitude of "honesty and humility"? This is what I think about every day.

No matter how HERALBONY grows in the future, I want it to remain a company that values ​​welfare. Currently, conversations within the company tend to center around how to increase ROI (return on investment) and how to increase sales. In this context, I personally have a strong fear that HERALBONY's business may move away from "disabilities" and "welfare."

If we continue with this project, it may become possible for HERALBONY to be accepted by many people. However, at the same time, those in the welfare field may feel that they have been left behind. To be honest, I cannot help but feel anxious about this.

In order to prevent this from happening, we must ensure that "honesty and humility" is maintained within myself and within the entire company. If this is not the case, the world we are aiming for cannot be realized. With this strong feeling, I have made these words the unifying values.

Without people in the "disability" and "welfare" fields, HERALBONY would not exist. It was the members of the Japan Autism Society who first invited me to give a lecture.

Shinoda: First and foremost, I want to be "honest and humble" to everyone involved in welfare for people with disabilities.

Be the kind of person who chooses to talk about things other than numbers in company meetings

Shinoda: Between "sincerity" and "humility," I've always felt that "sincerity" is the more difficult word for me. When you use "sincerity" in relation to someone, it brings with it an "expectation." "Are you being sincere with me?" So, when you use the word "sincerity," it's really important to think about what you want to be sincere with.

Matsuda: That's right. To repeat, when it comes to HERALBONY, I want them to be sincere in the welfare field. Even in company-wide meetings, I try to be proactive in talking about welfare. If we leave it alone, the conversation will only turn to how to increase the numbers (laughs). Last week, we also talked about the history of the disability movement.

Shinoda: It's really good to have the CEO talk like that at a company-wide meeting.

Matsuda: If things continue this way, the organization will grow without any employees knowing anything about welfare for people with disabilities. I think no one knows. How the systems and laws related to people with disabilities have changed, or who worked hard in that process. I myself have a family member with a disability, so I especially want people to know about those things.

Not all of the employees at HERALBONY joined the company because they wanted to work in welfare. I think it's wonderful that we have such a diverse range of people with such lively backgrounds. But, in the end, we depend on the artists to make a living. The fact that we're able to run our business today is a result of the guidance of everyone involved in the disability movement.

So, even though we have a diverse range of people working together, I want us to continue to share the common language of being "honest and humble in the welfare field." That's what I want to be like myself, and I have a hypothesis that companies that are like that are strong.

Feeling the "people" behind the numbers. That's the way to be "humble"

Shinoda: I joined my current company in 2020 and am currently struggling every day as a startup entrepreneur, but I feel that "honesty and humility" are very important in growing a business.

Regardless of the industry, the first priority for startups is "sales," but "sales" is not just an abstract number. "Sales" are the result of delivering concrete value to society, and increasing "sales" means an increase in the number of people who have received that value and become happy. Therefore, basically, increasing "sales" should be synonymous with an increase in the number of people who are happy, provided there are no major mistakes along the way.

However, if you make it too abstract, like "sales achievement rate X%", it becomes dangerous. Who is this "X%" for and what is its joy? I think that being "sincerity and humility" is what it means to have a firm grasp of that point. If you can do that, then "sales" is nothing but gratitude. You'll be like, "Did you understand? Thank you so much!!!" I run my own business and feel that way every day.

Matsuda: I understand. I'm really grateful.

Shinoda: So, in principle, increasing sales and growing the business should go hand in hand with being "honest and humble." If there is a case where they don't go hand in hand, it's probably when you make the "numbers" too abstract.

There is one word that I cannot tolerate in the startup industry. It is the word "fish tank". It is used like "If you advertise for this amount, you can move Y% from that fish tank to this one", but I really cannot tolerate that expression. I hate it. What do you think people are? This expression is the result of continuing to view the people at the other end of the value we provide as mere numbers. It is the exact opposite of "sincerity and humility".

Matsuda: That's terrible. But you hear that expression sometimes.

Shinoda: Right now, the Nikkei average is hitting an all-time high, but stock prices are rising because there are people behind them. People who create value, people who feel happy about that value and open their wallets, all kinds of people are involved and money is increasing. Money doesn't increase if you leave it alone. I think that being "sincerity and humility" is about how highly you can sense the presence of "people" behind something abstract like "numbers."

Being "honest and humble" about our mission, we are constantly challenging ourselves

Matsuda: Actually, it seems that there is some ambiguity as to whether the words "honesty and humility" are commonly understood among employees at HERALBONY... Some say that when they are told to "be honest and humble," it makes them feel like they have to hold back endlessly, and it makes them feel tired.

However, what you just said about always thinking clearly about the customers and artists behind the numbers is a sign of "honesty and humility," and I thought that was very easy to understand and great.

Shinoda: Yes, if you are conscious of who you are in the eyes of customers and artists, you will naturally be able to have a relationship with mutual respect. I'm sure you are already doing that now, but I feel that it will continue to grow.

I've talked about a lot of things up to this point, but I want to reiterate that I really like the word "humility." I want to remain humble.

Both HERALBONY and YELL are ventures, so we are always challenging ourselves and we do business with a different attitude than just doing what is within our means. However, taking risks and taking on challenges and being humble may seem contradictory at first glance, but I think they are actually connected.

Startups have a mission. For Heralbony, it is "Stand out and shine," and for Yell, it is "Create an organization that listens to each other." Is it a sense of wanting to be "humble" about that mission? If you want to achieve your mission, your business can't be small. You can't achieve your mission unless you increase the number of people involved and grow your business.

If we want to be "sincere and humble" about the mission we have decided upon, then we have no choice but to continue challenging ourselves. Otherwise, we will feel disrespectful to the mission.

Matsuda: I feel bad for my mission (laughs). Yes, that's true.

What did you think of the philosophical talk on "humility" by Takaya Matsuda and Makiko Shinoda? We at HERALBONY have always and will continue to cherish the word "humility" as we work towards our mission of "changing the image of disabilities." Next time, we will philosophize with Kundo Koyama about the word "sincerity."

Edited by: Yuko Umino (Heralbony)
Text: Maru Pro Photo: Yudai Omokawa