Haruki Murakami: The Way of Work

Murakami is a best-selling novelist of the 80’s. Interestingly, he has never spent a day in an office. In fact, his employment history included part-time gigs in recording companies and coffee shops during his senior years in college. He also spent several years running a jazz club in Tokyo. It was only after the publication of his first novel that he turned to writing full-time. Obviously, he’s the least likely person to teach us about work. And he didn’t attempt to do so.

What Murakami did was, in his words: simply observe while pacing the streets on his own during office hour. He was often mistaken for a student: lingering around, doing nothing, meeting other unemployed people at those places he lingered, also doing nothing. It’s a strange status with a bizarre feeling.

These encounters became profound while he was writing “Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche”. Murakami interviewed commuters who were victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway attack. One of them said, “We don’t need anyone releasing Sarin gas here, it’s a miracle we don’t die from rush hour every morning.” Overcrowding in the subway here is potentially fatal. People can hardly breathe. Wrists get broken from the shoving at the train doors. A woman told Murakami that she could take naps while standing. There was no way she could move her body throughout the subway ride. “It was like a battle.”

Murakami led a different life from office workers. When not writing, he ran every day, at his own pace. When he was working on a full-length novel, his right hand clung onto the pen and his left hand pressed on the manuscript. Diligently, he filled in the blanks. He was so focused that his body would unconsciously lose balance. To treat sloped shoulders, he would play Bach’s inventions & symphonies. This musical composition gave each hand an equal share of play. It was therapeutic physically, and resulted in a much more balanced, peaceful mind for Murakami. It feels as if Murakami lived in a different world. In fact, he has a different world view. “Novelists make a living from observations, not judgments”, he said.

Office workers, on the other hand, observe less and judge more. It is common belief that not passing judgments makes us appear unwise or indecisive. We are often trained to answer multiple choice questions instantly, from a young age. Our bosses have neither the time nor patience to listen to our opinions. Employees eagerly await our decisions so they may perform their duties right away. Admittedly, as bosses, we probably don’t have the time for their opinions either.

“Why be less judgmental?” Murakami explains, “Readers make their own conclusions, not the writer. The role of the novelist is to hand over resources for decisions to readers in a gentle and fascinating way. If a novelist makes the conclusion on his own, instead of leaving it in the readers’ hands, the novel will certainly becomes boring. It loses its depth. The natural radiance of literature gets dimmed. The story will unfold rigidly.”

That is why good novels inspire while management speeches bore and intimidate. If we spent a little more time observing every business strategy or discussion, collecting more possibilities cautiously, rather than jumping to conclusions, we can plant those possibilities into our reader’s heads. Each reader can play out those possibilities in his/her preferred sequence which is much easier for them to understand.

Will this interaction lead to conclusions that are smarter, more interesting and effective? Furthermore, is this interaction more engaging and able to create more sense of belonging? That is your decision to make.

(Reproduced with permission from Forbes China).

TH Peng

By: T H Peng, Chairman and CEO, Grey Group, Greater China

About TH Peng


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