Branding 'me' in a 'we' culture


How do you stand out in a culture that teaches you to fit in? Does the nail that sticks out always have to be hammered down?

In my birth culture, the United States, standing out is valued and often expected. I was raised on such advice as “be yourself,” “the early bird gets the worm,” “just do it,” and “look out for #1.” But in other cultures, as in my current home culture in Japan, people value fitting into the group. Here, being passive, humble, modest, and silent is respected. As such, defining your authentic self in Japan and broadcasting it tends to put the Japanese at risk of being separate from, rather than part of the group.

In the 1970s, Dutch cultural anthropologist Geert Hofstede identified the degree to which a society reinforces individual or group achievement as one of five cultural dimensions to explain cross-cultural attitudes, behaviors and communication styles. In societies that emphasize collectivism, people’s main concern is their in-group identity rather than their individuality. Here is a quick snapshot of “me” versus “we” cultures:

“Me” Cultures: ■ Self comes first ■ Focus on growth and progress ■ Competitive ■ Individual achievement earned and rewarded

“We” Cultures: ■ Group comes first ■ Focus on tradition and precedent ■ Collaborative ■ Success and position are ascribed

Japanese are educated from childhood to be self-effacing and to put the group ahead of one’s own interest. The idea of understanding your unique attributes – strengths, skills, values, and passions – and using them to stand out and differentiate yourself from others is a challenging concept. In the August 2011 edition of The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, William H Saito compared Japan’s national dream to a “predictable escalator” – get into a good university and ride up to graduation. Then get into a safe company, stand obediently to one side, and ride patiently up the escalator to retirement.

As we know, the world of work has changed forever. Even in Japan job security and lifetime employment are no longer guaranteed. “Out of order” signs are gradually appearing on these predictable escalators and lines are getting longer as people patiently wait for them to be repaired. However, success in this new working world in Japan will be characterized by jumping on an express elevator with an elevator pitch in hand that communicates a personal brand. Those who have worked to uncover, communicate, and manage their personal brand with be able to take this express elevator to the top. The question is how to do this without alienating oneself from the group.

Here are two quick tips to help people in “we” cultures to embrace personal branding without losing their in-group identity:

1) Be “SMART” and connect your brand to the group

Personal branding does not mean isolating yourself from others. Rather, it is understanding yourself better so that you can add value to your business, company, or career. Especially in “we” cultures you need stay focused on how your brand creates value for the group. One way is articulating how your unique promise of value provides SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) benefits to the team or organization. For example, “By using my passionate drive for success, our team is empowered to reach our quarterly department goals 1 month ahead of schedule.”

Remember, the diversity that the individual brings to the group does not come at the expense of others but rather empowers the group to reach a common goal. When the group understands how your unique value supports a larger group goal that they are also committed to, you become more memorable and your in-group identity is maintained.

2) “Style-switch” between ‘me’ and ‘we’

Personal branding across cultures requires active “style-switching”. Simply this is looking at a situation and deciding if the emphasis should be on “me” versus “we” and adjusting your approach. For example, if a Japanese team member is meeting with his/her American manager for his/her performance review, then emphasizing individual achievement is expected. In addition, when the American manager complements the Japanese team member, he/she should accept the complement rather then deferring it to the group. On the other hand, if the same team member is meeting with a Japanese customer then switching back to modest and self-effacing language is needed to maintain group harmony.

By following these two tips, you are respecting the “we” while still being “me.”

© Japan Today

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I hate me me me in a group, they just make noise for attention, they are not focused on the project, the team or the long term objective. They are not team players and will stab you in the back the first chance of a hint at job position advancement.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Concensus makes might, not right.

Decisions made by peer pressure are decided by one person in the group (no bigger than any loner, but without responsibility of one's own decisions), and that person is rarely the smartest nor most honest. It is pointless to jump off a bridge just because "everybody else is".

Great article, by the way! Will use and abuse the advices! (^-^)

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I always find it interesting to see how some of those "mes" want to break out of the group ... just a little. Because they want to be able to stay part of the group, but yet they want to get some attention. But how to do it if everybody is the same and everybody looks (almost ) the same? You can see that during Japanese summer festivals. Everybody wears a yukata, but in order to stand out just a little you buy that more expensive hairpin and that super expensive and cute bag. But the others did the same and so you don't stand out yet again. That's why some people draw something in their face, wear a mask ... if they're really "brave" and dare to stick out that much.

Remember, Japan has a saying: The nail that sticks out gets hammered.

Personally I'm not a big fan of that "we culture" and the "uchi" - "soto" way of thinking, but as a foreigner you're always a single "me" not really belonging to any "we"-group anyways ....

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

So cultures have the WE and the ME extremes. Most of the time, life demands some of each--the middle path. A balance of working together as a group and the ability to stand alone or go against the herd or fend for oneself. There are times when one is more appropriate than the other. There is no need to be a ME-hater or a WE-hater.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yeah, US is "me" culture and not fitting in the group.

Don`t think so. so it is ok to refuse to say pledge of allegiance and all that stuff. US has as big a group mentatlity as Japan.

BTW author, Japan and the US are just 2 countries on this planet.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Quite separate of anyone's personal feelings about this particular author, I find too many people misunderstand marketing. They often assume that if someone is marketing, that marketing is that person's "most basic value."

Unfortunately, too often people fail to get their wonderful ideas, qualities and/or extraordinary products that are highly "useful for the world" recognized or shared because they do not understand marketing or how to use it. Of course, there is also blow-hard, self-promotion that many mistake for marketing. But it can be argued that marketing in and of itself is not evil. It's a tool--or even an art.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

OK OK we get it, in Japan you have to hide the real YOU in order to work or get anything done, while it has some positives this so called "group concensus" also leads companies like lemming over the edge so watch out.

Personally I despise the whole honne-tatemae crap, toss in sempai/kohai BS as well, overall its not longer "working" like she used too!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japan and the US are just 2 countries on this planet.

Indeed. In my country you'd better be able to co-operate and behave professionally even with the "nails" in the group if you want to keep your job.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japanese are educated from childhood to be self-effacing and to put the group ahead of one’s own interest. Tell that to my children. Yohtaro Takano has done experiments on conformance and found that Japanese to be no more conforming to peer pressure than Americans, and sometimes more anti-conforming. Toshio Yamagishi writes that collectivism is a "let's get on philosophy" prevalent in Japan but does not mean that individual Japanese are lacking in individuality. It seems to me that Japanese children are brought up in such a way as to be so much at the centre of their families that if they where not taught a heavy dose of "lets get on," 'harmony' and the rest of it, they would end up being the wacko otaku that many of them do these days become. My theory is that if you stick to linguistic phenomena, the Japanese seem so self-effacing and lacking in policy, pride and goals, but if you open your eyes and look at their person, possessions, and behavior you see that they are some of the weirdest and most self assertive people on the planet. They are not "logocentrists." Words are no big deal, so they don't feel the need to assert themselves in that media. If you give Japanese a camera (as I did) however, and ask them to represent themselves photographically, they portray themselves far more positively than Americans.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I would fire anyone that came to me and said "personal brand"... people are not brands period.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

If you are searching for a window of opportunity going forward, then Personal Branding has to be an essential component in your strategic portfolio. Blending the me with the we in the quest for inter-cultural compatibility will maximize synergies, and utilizing SMART and KISS concepts in an ever-changing, fast-moving competitive environment will expedite your core competencies as you seek out blue-ocean potential. If you wish to pioneer the added value in life and career, be SMART and KISS my opportunity.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Hats off to hatsoff, great post. (assuming I'm right in thinking it's sarcastic of course)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This author's point of view arises naturally from perrhaps sharing the western delusion that the Self is the same as the ego or persona, and that therefore the thing to do in life is to exaggerate the dramatic persona that appears to be, but is not, the "authentic self". In Japan, of course, the converse delusion prevails, that the Self is nothing more than a unit in the group. The truly self-realised person does not even have to think about cultivating and publicising his self-image, for if (s)he is truly centred in the true self, which is of the nature of spirit, then there will be such charisma that the appropriate success will come of its own accord, without need for the rather distasteful strategies of ego-aggrandisement. (That said, I recognise that I might be misinterpreting the author's perspective; nevertheless, I stand by my observations as generally true)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan is not a "we" culture, actually ironically the Japanese collectivist view of the self is even more egocentric and self-centered than the individualist view of the self.

I think that the concept of self is filled with paradoxes. For example, in order to truly care for others, you must first become independent. Yet at the same time, you can only become independent by growing out your egocentricity. Being independent does not mean fulfilling your selfish desires, i.e. being egocentric. So actually, being independent really means being inter-dependent with others.

I think that the "we" culture in Japan is more dependent than inter-dependent. So in the end, it's more about "me" than "we". It's more about "take care of me, as I am weak and helpless" rather than "I will take care of you, and you will take care of me in return".

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Wow. Is this article Common Sense for Dummies? I don't mean to offend anybody, but are the authors 2 tips really things that people don't do? Are these things that need to be taught and written about?

If so, I have just one word to say about the world of business/management: Yikes!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Oh brother, are people still touting "personal branding" seriously? When was this article written? It's painfully corny.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ha Ha - bang to rights, Julian!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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