Emerging Tech

Poll: What if you were the PM of Japan?

In times of crises, leaders often try to "manage" the information flow. While that may have worked in the past, John M. McKee says it's not even possible anymore. However, it's clear that the Japanese Prime Minister is still trying to do just that.

The outlook for Japan is extremely tough. These satellite pictures show the dramatic impact of the tsunami, and there is still a lack of information about the true impact of those nuclear reactors that may have begun melting down. The company that owns them is well-known for misleading officials in the past.

My son and his wife live in Japan. Fortunately, they're based in Sapporo, on the island above the one that was so badly hammered recently. We've been in constant communication via Skype, Facebook, and email since the first earthquake.

The differences in news availability, and sharing, between there and here is dramatic: I'm often supplying him with new insight or giving him links to reports on issues that are not yet available through the Japanese media. 

In all likelihood someone in government there is trying to "manage the news." Leaders often do that in crises. We repeatedly see them react that way in business crises (for example, a car company that has uncovered a technical problem that may risk customers' safety) and governmental issues -- like when a bank suddenly goes insolvent and puts the financial industry at risk.

Usually they'll say they do this because they don't want to cause panic. ("They won't understand! It will cause uncontrollable problems! We need to get ahead of this before we disclose...")

I doubt this is was ever the right approach, but today, with internet connectivity even during periods of revolution and natural disasters, it's definitely a bad choice. People (even those of us who "don't understand" how big the problems are) usually behave decently when they understand what they are facing. And even if you don't agree with that comment, trying to manage the news when millions of people are on panic alert is untenable.

The Japanese government would be wise to start being more transparent and forthcoming with their citizens. More than perhaps any other nation, their citizenry respect those around them. They know how to handle problems involving crowds and scarcity. And, they are getting the real information from outside sources already.

Here's to Their Future...

John

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

14 comments
Heimdall222
Heimdall222

Some time ago, I came across the following paraphrase of a well-known saying: "The Japanese are a funny race. They'll cut off their nose to save their face." No doubt there's embarrassment (aka loss of face) to be had by all in this situation. Here's an island country located squarely on top of one of the most tectonically-active regions on the planet, and they didn't design their nuclear power plants to fail safe in this exact situation. Why not? Supreme arrogance, along the lines of it can't happen here? An attempt to ignore the reality of being required to use nuclear power, in light of their history (i.e., Hiroshima and Nagasaki)? Who knows, but it's no doubt all being driven by the Japanese primary cultural imperative - NEVER lose face! A good example of this sort of thing is the company that owns the power plants being well-known for misleading officials in the past. Again, never be embarrassed by your shortcomings - NEVER lose face! So, bearing in mind that Japanese culture isn't about to change any time soon, the world - including the Japanese people themselves - should not expect to hear an accurate or complete story from Japanese leadership regarding exactly what's happening with the power plants. Or to the people around them. @John McKee - please do NOT be comfortable with, or advise your son and his wife to be comfortable with, living in Sapporo. Depending on wind direction, releases of radioactive particulates and especially the releases of radioactive steam from the melted-down reactors due to flooding with sea water, may put them at extreme risk. (If you don't believe that, revisit the Chernobyl disaster for background.) If I were they, I'd didi mao, and right now!

pauloldford
pauloldford like.author.displayName 1 Like

Mr. McKee is a little naive, and seems to have little understanding of the situation in Japan. He seems to be laying this at the foot of Prime Minister Khan, who has relatively little power. Press censorship has been taking place in Japan for a long time, but in a very subtle and insidious way. Reporters in Japan must belong to a reporter's association if they are to be invited to government or police news conferences or briefings. Membership in the association is ultimately controlled by the government. If the government doesn't like what a reporter has written, the reporter will find that his membership is revoked or not renewed. This system has been entrenched for years. If the Prime Minister were opposed to it, he could stamp his feet and yell all he wanted, but he wouldn't be able to change it.

info
info like.author.displayName 1 Like

But REAL censorship STILL works to an extent. As long as the information is kept largely under wraps, which is why they still try to do it. Sometimes it's warranted. Most of the time, they're trying to justify their positions, or they're panicking themselves. Usually trying to figure out ways they CAN'T be blamed for whatever tragedy is occurring. Another good movie quote is from John Cusack in '2012'. "When the government is telling everyone not to panic...That's when you RUN!" ;)

oldbaritone
oldbaritone like.author.displayName 1 Like

and never has. The truth gets out, one way or another. When a leader is so arrogant to decide that people don't have the right to be informed, he destroys his own credibility. His own people's trust is shattered, which destroys the people's faith in their government, and leads to panic - BECAUSE of the censorship. We already have video of the explosions. When a leader says "everything is under control" and people see devastating explosions at a nuclear plant, it's patently obvious that things are NOT "under control." Since the people know they are being placated, they naturally jump to the worst-case conclusion. And then they panic. It's utterly arrogant of a leader to assume a posture of "I can handle this information, but you cannot." By so doing, his credibility is completely destroyed. The result is panic. Sadly, a couple of movie quotes come to mind, and demonstrate the irony: Colonel Jessep in "A Few Good Men", shouting at Tom Cruise "You can't handle the truth!" in a court-martial where he has sworn to tell the truth to high-level military officers who ARE able to handle it. He continues... "And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth." Sorry sir, yes they do. And Chip Diller (Kevin Bacon) the ROTC cadet in Animal House, standing in a panicked crowd, screaming "Remain calm! All is well!" This is a sad parody of the current situation. Censorship has had about the same result throughout history. When the masses have even a glimpse of the truth, the censor's credibility is destroyed. And along with the credibility, so goes their confidence in the leader's ability to deal with the problem. And for Dr_Zinj's "Depends on your population", I think most would agree that Japan, particularly in the urban areas, has one of the best-educated and most astute populations in the world. They will recognize concealment and double-talk immediately. And they have.

LightVelocity
LightVelocity

Managing the communication is just fine and advisable, so long as the leader does not think the same way and acts based on the real situation. Underplay helps ease the situation and provides bandwidth to tackle the situation, which would be spent unproductively in managing the panic that comes from explain the situation as it is to the general crowd. In crisis, you measure the leader by the actions, not words

sboverie
sboverie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Disasters like the tsunami/earthquake, hurricanes and floods tend to make rescue and recovery efforts extremely difficult. The best preparation for disaster is to plan on surviving on your own for about 72 hours. It takes governments and other organisations about 3 days to get resources to the areas that need them. The information that people need is where to go for shelter and where to go to volunteer to help. The aftermath of the tsunami now is to rescue people and get them to a shelter or hospital followed by clearing debris to find bodies and identify them and eventually rebuilding. The PM should give clear information for people to help them find shelter and food while rescue operations and infrastructural repairs are made. The hardest task is to direct resources to where they are needed, firemen to fight fires, electricians to repair power system, search and rescue to the areas that are hardest hit and finally supplies to support the survivors. One of the best lessons learned is that preparing for a disaster improves survival. The more preparation done the better the chances of surviving. I live in an earthquake prone area, I have a grab and go kit with several items to help get through 3 days. The kit has a tarp, rope, emergency food, water purification tablets, small pan and skillet, tea and hot chocolate and small tools and flashlights. I have a smaller kit in my car and I keep the gas tank at least half full in case I need to evacuate the area. Another part of emergency planning is to work out places for family and friends to meet and how to communicate. FRS radios have a short range but planning can help organize a communication network. Preparing for emergencies is good no matter where you live. Some emergencies are nature related and others are caused by man (riots and wars.) The Red Cross has good information on assembling a survival kit as well as informaton about shutting off home utilities.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj like.author.displayName 1 Like

If you have an ignorant, poorly educated population, with no practice in disaster preparedness and management, and a culture dependent on hierarchical decision making; then withholding information may work. When you have a highly educated, well-informed population, with lots of practice in disaster preparedness and emergency management, and a culture of independent thinking (like most of the U.S.); withholding of information is the absolute worst thing to do. It demonstrates that those in authority aren't capable of doing the job, and that they are lying and trying to cover up their lack of ability. That's one reason I like the U.S. With a high number of former military in the population, and our streak of stubborn independence; we're already thinking in contingency mode, and usually don't wait for the morons in Washington to get their heads out of their nether regions before we start acting on our own.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I can't really think of Japan without considering the amount of natural disaster preperation that goes into everything from building codes to day to day life. The US has long since dropped the "jump under your desk and cover your eyes" drills in school but from what I understand, Japanese kids do earthqake drilles. Your also dealing with a well educated society that retains a does of respect for rank structure and has a high degree of self discapline. The government is probably in a better possition than the US if they came out with complete details and process transparency. I think the Japanese will also be more willing to help each other in rebuilding due to the cultural focus on "us" not "me".

richord
richord

When reading this statement I suggest "remember Katrina" "If you have an ignorant, poorly educated population, with no practice in disaster preparedness and management, and a culture dependent on hierarchical decision making; then withholding information may work"

scoleman
scoleman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Sometimes you need to manage information to avoid panic. Professionals will be evaluating the information coming out of the reactor. A layperson could misinterpret or misunderstand information and panic.

Steve__Jobs
Steve__Jobs like.author.displayName 1 Like

You patronising plonker !! The problem is the filter between the evaluation and the disclosure. My approach is to let the "specialists" do their evaluations AND ensure that the "non-specialists" clearly "translate", but NOT redact the conclusions (i.e. politicians & journalists).

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 8 Like

But that is exactly what is happening now. The Numerous Highly Paid and Brainless Laypeople who pass as reporters are misrepresenting the true situation in all of the affected areas of Japan. Kind of reminds me of a Press Meeting in Christchurch recently where the PM said we do not know how many have died and it's going to take a long time. The first question to him by the assembled Reporters was [b]How many Have Died?[/b] Not being satisfied with the truth that they didn't know the assembled reporters continued to ask the same question in different ways and continued getting the same answer. In Japan after the water receded sort of anyway they where scrambling demanding to know how many had died and drastically misrepresenting the real situation. Comparing the Reactors in Japan to Chernobyl is plainly ridiculous as they are a different type and work completely differently with different fuel. But none the less they hear the word Nuclear Leak and then start rabbiting on about Chernobyl without knowing exactly what it is they are rabbiting on about. Or much more importantly what it all means. If you only have a Good & Bad option then the Reactors in Japan are most certainly Bad but they are no where near being in the same category as Chernobyl or for that matter 3 Mile Island. What happened in both of those cases was Human Error where as here in Japan they are suffering the result of a Adverse Impact of Nature on a process shutting down. The other Incidents being refereed to where preventable this one wasn't with what has happened. The fact that these reactors stood up to the Earthquake and resulting Tsunami makes them unbelievably sturdy. The simple fact that to resist a Earthquake requires the building to be flexible on it's foundations and to resist a Tsunami it need to be the complete opposite means nothing to these so called Reporters who are after that elusive [b]Scoop[/b] and Fact or Knowledge doesn't come into things. Just like a report of Multi Headed Babies because there was a Nuclear Leak at the Jindeleee over the Horizon Radar Plant. The real fact was that on the outside fence there where signs warning of EMF Radiation which the media took as some weird form of Nuclear Radiation because the Word Radiation can only be associated with Nuclear to the minds of the reporters. Col

JamesRL
JamesRL

If anything, the press conference I saw with the Japanese PM overstated the nuclear problem. But if it is better to be safe than sorry, he did the right thing. Here is the release today from the operators of the nuclear plant. http://www.getwebhosting.net/cms/?p=38 I'm sure things were dangerous for those working in the plant. Hydrogen explosions, fires, even steam can be deadly. They may have been exposed to too much radiation. But the amount released was very small. Even the US admiral admitted that although they detected a leak and took precautions, it was unlikely to be harmful. I made many visits to a nuclear facility at a previous employer. I've seen a working reactor close up. In all that time I received less radiation than one dental XRay. We all get low doses of radiation all the time. From what I've read and heard, the reactors survived the quake intact and operational. It was the tsunami's strength that did them in. Reactors need pumps to keep the core cool, those pumps are run by electricity. In event of a power loss, they have generators and batteries. Apparently the generators were damaged, and the battery backup lasted a few hours.

teeeceee
teeeceee

Col, You are spot on. The media is the root cause of any panic that might arise. They cannot bring themselves to just report things as they are; they want sensationalism in the product reminiscent of yellow journalism of the 19th century. As for radiation threats, maybe that word is a misnomer. Maybe the threat might be called atomic neutron particle emission, a much less alarming description of the danger those unfortunate people face. I think that the media should turn their energies to the tasks of gathering and implementing aid rather than promoting alarmism. As for the subject of this thread, governments are governments and they are going to do what they can do to control the flow of information. Ours (The good ole USA) does that as do all others to one extent or another. The reporting on the Gulf wars is a prime example of that. TEECEE