Why Mokuhankan ... by that question I don't mean the question of why I am doing this, because the benefits to me from having an invigorated business are quite clear. But now that we are setting up an actual 'business organization', I am interested in exploring some of the wider implications of such an activity.
We recently read about how Japanese companies are changing, and becoming more like overseas organizations. In the USA, for one example, if you were to ask somebody about the purpose of a business, the answer would usually be that 'it exists to make money for its shareholders.' The investors provide capital, and they want a return on that investment. All the activities of the business: hiring staff, producing products or services, and putting them on the market, are all subservient to that main goal.
Historically, Japanese companies have operated under a different concept, and returning profits to shareholders has not been seen as the primary goal; the position of the employees, customers, and society in general have taken precedence, at least in theory.
Now Mokuhankan has no investors beyond myself, so it is free to create its own balance between these sometimes contradictory motivations. Let me try to outline my thoughts on this; I'll put down some 'axioms' for our business, and I will attempt to list these in order of priority in my mind.
1) The fundamental reason for the existence of this organization is to provide a way for the people working here to make a living, and to do so in a way that helps provide meaning to their life.
Yes, there it is - I am putting myself (and the other employees) first, before customers, before profits, and before anything else. Are you upset about this? Read on ...
2) In order to provide that 'meaning to their life', the activities of this organization must be of a nature that provides value to society. If we can contribute more than we use; if we can create beauty and value where it did not exist before; and if we can do so with an intelligent use of the resources available to us (both local and planetary in scope), leaving our surroundings in a better situation than before we started, then our lives will have had meaning.
There is no #3. Profit to the investors? There will be none. And I don't mean because we will fail to make any; I mean because none of it will be taken out. In the short term, all income will be returned directly to running the business and paying the workers. Should our business become successful to the extent that we begin to generate 'profits', all such resources will simply be put back into the venture. Initiating new projects; saving for the inevitable slump that will happen after it is our turn for an earthquake; accumulating resources for expansion; there are any number of ways we will be able to use such money. There will never be anything left for 'investors'.
At present, the legal status of the venture is what is known in Japanese as kojin jigyo - a personal proprietorship. I own everything, and I carry total liability. Moving forward, we intend when possible to change that to some form of formal business organization, presumably some kind of 'company', and this will not be my property, but will be owned by the people working here. When we get to that stage, my own income will then derive from whatever work I do with my own barens and chisels, and not as the 'shareholder'.
Look at this though ... such 'big talk' already, when we are still crawling on our hands and knees, not yet ready to even stand up! But I think it is important to set the tone and establish such things right at the beginning. And indeed, our day by day decisions are already being influenced by this philosophy, in such matters as whether or not any particular batch of prints is 'ready for sale' (we need the profit!), or should be considered as 'just for training' (encouraging a stress-free leaning environment).
So having said all this, perhaps you are left with the impression that I am leaning more towards a Japanese way of doing business than a typical Western way. Well, yes and no. There is one way in which I want this place to be very different from almost every Japanese company I have ever had any contact with. When you come in the door to visit this place, you are going to see a group of people having fun!