Timeless lessons from the dead on wealth creation



TOYOTA CITY, Japan. It’s an All Saints’ Day holiday, and if there are timely lessons to learn from successful personalities who have passed on ahead of us, then who would better represent the eternal wisdom of Japan and the western world than Kiichiro Toyoda and Albert Einstein, respectively? When you get a blend of their teachings, you’ll come out with something more valuable than material wealth.

Kiichiro (1894-1952) was the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation and the son of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works founder Sakichi Toyoda (1867-1930). The elder Toyoda is known as the “King of Japanese Inventors” for having created the groundbreaking automatic weaving power loom that stops its own operations as soon as a problem occurs, (such as when a thread breaks), without man’s intervention, preventing a defective clothing material. This is now known as intelligent automation or jidoka – one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System.

Encouraged by his father, Kiichiro branched out of the family’s loom works business to engage in auto manufacturing, despite the fact that it was a risky proposition at the time.

But what makes Kiichiro special, despite his being known as shy and “normally reserved” by his friends, was demonstrated in an anecdote memorialized at the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Aichi Prefecture:

“When Kiichiro was walking in an exclusive residential quarter in Hongo, Tokyo with friends, they came across a
splendid new house, and seeing this, his schoolmates felt a surge of hostility and criticism toward the extravagance of the capitalists.

“Kiichiro, however, immediately countered them: ‘Even in the case of a mansion like this, the owner has likely worked for many years, and this is the culmination of his efforts, and that by itself is not worthy of criticism. The problem is whether he will continue to monopolize and control his wealth. If he uses that wealth to create jobs and many opportunities, then that is democracy.’

“His friends were surprised at the intensity of this counter-argument by Kiichiro, who usually spoke very little, and they viewed him in a new light.”

Really, there’s truth to the Latin proverb that, “Still water runs deep,” which, when put in a new light, would mean: It’s better to work hard in silence and let your success become the noise.

Now, how about Einstein, who was resurrected from the dead by a front-page story of The Japan Times last
Thursday (Oct. 26, 2017)? The German-born physicist was on a lecture tour in Japan in 1922. As you probably know, Einstein became famous for his theory of relativity, which may be explained lightly this way: “Put your hand over a hot stove for one minute and it seems like an hour. Sit next to a pretty woman for one hour, and it seems like one minute.”

The report says that the note Einstein gave to a Japanese courier in 1922 fetched a whopping $1.56 million at an auction in Jerusalem. The winning bid went far beyond the pre-auction estimate of not more than $8,000, and was bought by a European who didn’t want to be identified.

The note written by Einstein on a stationery of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was written in German and translates to something like this: “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.” The note was given to the messenger who refused to accept a tip, in keeping with the age-old Japanese tradition that it’s a shame to accept money from a customer or a guest.

Since Einstein didn’t want the messenger to leave empty handed, he wrote him the note by hand and said: “Maybe if you’re lucky those notes will become much more valuable than just a regular tip.” And true enough, the seller – a relative of the messenger – has become apparently rich.

Well, of course, money is not everything. But many of us would still fight for material wealth, including yours truly, although for me, the “fight for material wealth” has become quite a strong phrase. Look around us, including the poor who are often seen lining up at lotto outlets, betting their last P20.

This brings us to the question – who wouldn’t want to be rich? I’ve yet to see and hear a person say he doesn’t want to be rich. Very few of us would say money is not interesting enough. Someone might come up to you and repeat (tongue-in-cheek) the famous saying, “It’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable.”

If you’re not convinced of the sincerity of that person, maybe another might even put a Christian flavor to it and quote Apostle Paul saying in 1 Timothy 6:9-10: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Truly, and I’ll say this again, this time, tongue-in-cheek, money can bring you trouble and all sorts of temptations. For one, thieves, kidnappers, and all malevolent forces could gang up against you and your family to take your money.

But what if you use your money to create prosperity for others, like what Kiichiro had recommended?
Money could smell like manure, you know. We don’t want to keep it for ourselves. That smell, like fertilizer, must be spread out to benefit others.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.

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