Apples, Sakura and All the Empty Seats in Japan

by Jobbatical April 04, 2017

Couldn’t resist taking a quick pic of the sakura (cherry blossoms) during my walking meeting with an inspiring HR guru Piotr Feliks Grzywacz

The night before my talk at Slush Tokyo was one of those nights — around midnight, you figure you’ll just finish up a few more things. Next thing you know, it’s 2 a.m. and you realize you have to get up in four hours. I tossed and turned all those four hours and then gave up. I headed upstairs to the little Japanese sauna in my hotel to clear my head for the busy day ahead. Japanese sauna is all about hot springs and cold baths — what better way to shake off a sleepless night than jumping between those two with serene music playing in the background, I thought.

I stepped onto the rooftop, into the chilly air of the Tokyo spring to find something very unexpected. In the outdoor hot tub, around 30–40 red apples were floating. Just like that. Apples. In the tub. Floating. I stopped for a second to question my sanity, but then just burst out laughing. I had no idea why the apples were in the water or what I was supposed to do with them, but in this moment I remembered all the reasons why I was going to step on the stage later that day. I remembered why I had stayed up late: to keep building Jobbatical. To help people find experiences that broaden their minds; experiences that make them see the world from different perspectives.

As “The Atlantic” quoted Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, in an article some years ago:

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.”

In other words: It’s those experiences that make us more creative. I stepped into the bath full of apples and knew that I would have a fantastic day in this fascinating country of Japan.

by Who is Danny via Shuttertock

What had brought me to Japan in the first place were the numbers. According to a Manpower Group study, Japan is the number one country for talent shortage in the world. In 2016, 86% of employers (more than twice the global average of 40%) in Japan reported difficulties filling jobs. The future isn’t looking much brighter — Japan’s population is shrinking. Last year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs forecasted that within the next fifty years, Japan may lose nearly 20% of its population. At the same time, Japan has a rich culture, beautiful scenery, and great infrastructure, making it a perfect destination for Jobbatical’s ready-to-relocate talent community.

In fact, at Jobbatical meetups, we play a game: write down your dream Jobbatical country and then find others who dream of living in the same country. The biggest groups, as far as I can remember, have always been Japan and New Zealand. Japan has also been among the top twenty most searched destinations on Jobbatical. On paper, Japan is the perfect country for Jobbatical. So why have there been so few jobbaticals in Japan? In a country where almost every company has run out of talent, why are businesses so reluctant to use outside help? As Max Mackee, the co-founder & CEO of Origami told me during our lunch in Tokyo, “Japan is a special country and things here work in a special way.” Having grown up dividing his time between the UK and Japan, Max has seen the issue from a unique angle. He knows what he’s talking about.

Another interesting and long overdue meeting in Tokyo was with my former boss and one of the greatest people I’ve had the honour of working with, Jesus Perezagua. While chatting with him, I had a flashback from some years ago, to a trip to Amsterdam where the European HQ of National Geographic Channels and Fox Entertainment was located at the time (sidenote: in Europe, Fox channels are perfectly reasonable entertainment channels). I was going to Amsterdam to tell Jesus I was quitting. My channels in the Baltics were doing great and I didn’t have the kind of corporate DNA that would have kept me there. Jesus told me to think long and hard about how changing organisations after only three years may affect my resume. I must admit I had no idea what I was going to do next, and his words turned my stomach. I left anyway. Soon after, the inspiration for Jobbatical started to emerge. But life has its little tricks — Jesus left Fox as well and took a “jobbatical” of his own in Japan with his family. Initially planning to stay for a year or two, they have now lived in Japan for three years and gave me a very insightful overview of what it’s like to live in Japan as an expat.

Me on the stage of Slush Tokyo (photo from Slush Tokyo)

My time in Japan taught me a lot about those special ways. I can’t wait to see how the discussions we started during that week, surrounded by the sweet smell of sakura (cherry blossoms), will convert into exciting career journeys for our users in the land of the rising sun.

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