Warning: “Not Bad” is Not Good

March 13, 2012

If you’ve heard me talk, you know I often quote Jim Collins and say:  Good is the Enemy of Great.  If you’re good at something, it’s very easy to be satisfied, to stop striving.

Many people can be good, only a few can be great. You have to break away from the pack.

Lately, I’ve been thinking how often we not only don’t pursue great, we settle for less than good, and how with a little bit of effort and a willingness to change we can go from “not bad” to “good”.

It’s not as big a leap as Good To Great, but it’s easier to go from “not bad” to “good” and you can do it on almost a daily basis.

For example.

I just finished a wonderful Blueberry muffin that I bought at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo coffee shop.  It was full of blueberries, nice and fluffy. It came in the most wonderful wrapping [I really don’t know how they wrapped it] and was handed to me by a young woman,  impeccably dressed.

The cost was just  $2.50.  The muffins at the local branch of  the  imported food shop near my house cost three bucks and they are “not bad”.  They are better than the doughy humongous  ones you get at Costco, but they are still never good, just “not bad.”

It took a little bit of effort -a twenty minute walk-to get the muffins from the Ritz Carlton, but it’s worth it.  I probably won’t  do this everyday, but it’s worth it.

One of my consulting clients continuously referred to his marketing department as “not bad”.  When he finally took some action and brought in some better qualified staff, he began a whole series of new campaigns and he got more excited about his work.  His marketing people were “damn good”, he told me. His life and his business improved.

The gym I used to go to was also “not bad.” So was my dentist, my apartment, my internist.  All “not bad”.  I didnt hate them and I didn’t love them.  Just “not bad”.  Not “good” either.

I often talk about surrounding yourself with the best people possible.  As I thought about my life and how to make it better, I changed  a lot of these small things.

I found a a wonderful dentist, a magnificent apartment ,a great gym,  and an excellent internist. It took a while to find and change them all, but as I did, my life got appreciably better.  Yes, really better. Much better.

Small things like this can make a big difference.

It just a willingness to change and make the extra effort.

“Not Bad” is “Not Good”

The next time you say this [I know some people say it almost reflexively], think about what it would take to make it good, if not great.

Usually, it’s just a few extra steps.

If you run a business, a restaurant, a department, a school, a class and people say it’s “not bad”.   It’s reason to worry. Is this enough for you?  It is most likely not going to be enough for your customers.  What would it take to get people to say “good”?


When Is The Best Time To Change Jobs?

March 10, 2012

My friend J told me I was crazy to quit my job as a visiting professor in Thailand.

I was teaching at Thailand’s top university.They put me up in a great hotel and I lived as an expat. I ate great food  and I never experienced Japan’s summers or winter months because I would be in Thailand instead. Truthfully there were a lot of things I liked about the job.

But for me, one thing was missing and that was the opportunity to learn something new.  After six years, the challenge was gone. I was just going through the motions and I didn’t want to do it “just for the money” or even the suntan.

So I quit.  Not abruptly.  I just told the university I wouldn’t be coming back for a seventh year and gave them enough time to hire someone else.

They kept calling and asking me to return.  I really loved the people, but I haven’t gone back.  There was just not anything else for me to do there.  The teaching was not enough.  I need to feel like I am also learning something.

To me, the lack of a chance to learn is one of the most important reasons to quit.

In any job, you want three things:

1.to be fairly compensated,

2. you want to make a contribution;  and

3. you want to be able to learn something.

People  usually quit for the first reason, or at least that’s what they say.  They choose a new job for the the second reason.

Too often they ignore the third reason.   But it is often the most important.

One of the reasons I stayed at my full-time university position in Japan so long was that in 19 years, I could always learn something.

How about in your job?  Is there a chance to learn?  Can you take advantage of those chances?

Do you tell people your job is boring?  It may be because the learning has stopped.  Is there anything you can do to make it more interesting.

Some of my former students are working for General Electric.  It’s a place that chooses the best people and challenges them continuously.  I never hear these graduates complain— because the learning is non-stop.

Last night, I had dinner with another former student who just started working for a government agency in southern Japan.  In his own words, he  told me he “is doing only routine work”.  “Routine work” means basically filling out forms and scheduling deliveries.  For him, it just could not get more routine than this. There is no chance to do anything else for three years, which is basically his time for training.

One problem: It’s  killing his spirit.  I asked him if there was any way he could make the job more challenging, if there were things he could learn there.   [It’s always best to see if you can find some learning where you are before you leave.]

He told me there really wasn’t and I believe him. He’s decided to leave after just a few months. To him, it’s the right choice, the only choice now.

When the learning stops, or when the chance for learning doesn’t exist.  That’s the best time to quit.


Don’t Lose Today’s Chance That Will Surely Come Your Way

March 4, 2012

When I was in graduate school, I had a lot of part time jobs.  I was a bartender, I demonstrated toys in a department store, I promoted a meditation program for losing weight [Being Thin], and I taught part-time at a local university.

When I went to the local ABC TV station in Boston to promote my client, Being Thin, I had a great talk with the producer and the news director, who was Andy Rooney’s daughter.  They weren’t interested in my client. They were interested in me.

They wanted to know where I went to school, what I was studying, and why I looked so happy.  I kept on trying to bring the topic back to my client, they kept on asking me what I knew about.  Finally, they asked me if I wanted to be on TV?

I didn’t know if I heard them correctly.  They had an opening at the end of Wednesday’s noon news program for someone to talk about “feeling good, about dealing with stress, about getting along with your family and your boss, stuff like that.

I gave them a lot of excuses, “I’m not good looking enough”, “I don’t know enough”, “You really should use the people from my client.”  They didn’t buy it. They wanted me.

Finally, I said, “yes, I’ll do it.”  I was there on Tuesday and they wanted me to start the next day.

I did it.   I stayed up the whole night preparing my three minutes and the next day I was on TV talking about reducing stress. After my segment, I answered phone calls from listeners, including some relatives I had lost touch with.  This segment continued for several weeks and I had a lot of fun.

The other graduate students couldn’t believe they were watching me on TV. My professors at graduate school watched me on TV and liked what I had to say.   The only ones who were upset were my clients and unfortunately we had to part company.

This was one chance I didn’t let go and I’m glad I did it.

But I did have another chance that I let go.

I had just started a job as an assistant professor at a state university in California. Peter Drucker, the famed management scholar was teaching at a nearby university.  He was not a good speaker and was looking for someone articulate who could explain his theories to large audiences.  He was looking for someone who could develop training programs around his theories.  One day I got a call asking me if I was interested in being that person.  It was a chance to start something new.  It was a chance to work with Peter Drucker.

I was afraid. I didn’t take that chance.  I never got another call.

I don’t look back with regret since my life has turned out fine. But, as I think about that chance today, I also think about what stopped me from taking that chance as well as other chances that I didn’t take and I wonder what kept me back.

Fear was undoubtedly the major reason.

I have finally learned to take chances when they do come my way, even when I am not quite ready. I have very little to lose and a lot to gain.

Every day, it seems as if we have new chances.  Chance to meet people who might change our lives.  Chance for a new job.  Chance to eat a new kind of food.  Chance to try a new coffee shop.  Some are small things. Some are big things.

It’s hard to know which ones are good and which ones are bad, but some are worth taking if we can put our fear aside, even temporarily.

Complacency and fear keeps us where we are.  Some chances aren’t worth taking, but when some come our way, we really should grab them, especially if we are unhappy where we are.

It’s like being in a prison and the warden comes over to you with the key that will let you leave.  And you stay there.

If you are in a situation that you would like to change, recognize that everyday, “the warden comes to you with the key, with another chance to do something else”.

Grab the key, take the chance.


The Courage To Create: Keio Final Lecture

February 25, 2012


Hi. Today’s Blog Post is a Long One.  It’s my final lecture at Keio University where I taught for 19 years.

I gave a shorter version of this talk at Roppongi Hills and you can see the video here:


The slides for the shortened version are on slides share here.

There’s info about the courses I taught  here.



The Courage To Create, Dr. Bob Tobin, Professor Emeritus, Keio University Faculty of Business and Commerce

January 17, 2012

Believe me when I tell you I didn’t expect to be here today. I came to Japan in 1989 for two months and now 22 years later and after 19 years at Keio, I am still here and giving this talk.  It seems that everything I know begins with the letter C: Communication; Creativity; and Change.

Today I want to talk about something else. It also begins with a C, and it’s Courage-and in particular the courage it takes to create something. It’s about the role courage has played in my own life and the role it can play in yours. Courage is not just for people in the army.  Courage is the most important ingredient  you need in living a life that matters and making a contribution in this world.

You may know the similar words– risk, taking chances, but I want to use the word courage because that’s the word that puts the responsibility where it belongs. Right on me and right on you.  When I think back on my 19 years at Keio, although I have taught many courses, given many presentations and written many articles, it’s actually “courage” that has been the most important message that I have tried to get across to people. I have encouraged others to have the courage to dream, the courage to change, the courage to be who they are, the courage to follow their own path, the courage to communicate with others, the courage to take the next step.

My journey to Keio actually started in graduate school at Boston University. I studied organizational behavior.  The quickest way to explain organizational behavior is that its a field that involves the study of psychology, sociology and business. This field gave me a very wide view of the world. I learned about people, groups and organizations.

At Boston University, I learned how important it was to have passion about your work. I also learned that being a professor is the best job in the world. It’s a career where you are always learning and have a chance to have an impact on young peoples lives.  I also learned about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone.

One professor told me that every year he threw out his notes from the previous year so he would always be up to date.  I loved this idea and have always taught each class from scratch, never the same. I took a course in management but it was taught by the accounting professor. I wondered what this accounting professor knew about management, but of course he  knew a lot about management. He brought a completely new perspective to the course.  He broke out of his own field, his comfort zone and we all learned a lot.  Courage is what it takes to get out there.

I taught at Boston University and worked as a consultant and then moved to Long Beach. California and  taught at Pepperdine University. I loved California and had no intention of leaving until I had an opportunity to go to Asia and work as a consultant for the U.S. Military.  The military asked me twice to go to Asia and both times I said no. The third time they asked me, I had to go.  I worked for the military all over Asia–Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and when I came to Japan, I loved it right away.

I wanted to stay as long as I could, but my life and work was based In America. Then I did something that took courage.  After about 6 months in Japan, I took a chance and quit the job with the military–and decided to stay in Japan without any job.  I was over 40 sharing a tiny apartment and I had no job and I had to start all over.  Eventually I got work as a consultant helping Japanese companies expand overseas.  Every morning, limousines would come to my small apartment and take me to many Japanese companies for work-any company that began with an N.  NEC, Nippon Steel, NTT, NKK, NHK.

I missed teaching and eventually I applied for a position at Keio and started as a part time instructor.   I was glad to be teaching again. I taught first in Fujisawa and then at Hiyoshi. Eventually, The Faculty of Business and Commerce hired me as the first full time non-Japanese professor.  It took me a long time to find my own way here. Some people told me “be yourself”, others told me “we want you to help the faculty” and others told me “when in Rome,  do as the Romans do”.   I didn’t know what to do. I’m not a Roman.  I had to find my own way and it was not so easy.  I had many culture clashes and culture bumps, but what the hell that is part of life.  I didn’t come to Keio to be popular. I came here to do something, to teach something. My motto became, “be great and have fun.” and believe me that was a stretch for me because it was far from how I was feeling.

I wanted to be the kind of professor who inspires people and make a difference at Keio and in peoples lives and I wanted to enjoy it here.  After I began to settle in, I started going with my strengths-creativity, innovation, communication and that seems to have worked.  I didn’t shore up my weaknesses.  In fact, I tell people go with your strengths.  That is how you add value.  We all have weaknesses, but don’t focus on them.  It turns out that what I was best at was creating a good atmosphere for learning.

I created a place here at Keio where where students could achieve more than they believed possible, where students would always be challenging themselves, where students could be themselves,  where learning was collaborative, and where students could follow a path different than the usual one.  And in the same way I pushed my students I pushed myself.

When new faculty come to Keio University or when my students start new jobs and they ask me for advice, I tell them something very simple, “Be great and Have fun”.  That was my motto here.

Good makes you complacent, but if you want to be great at something, you keep at it, you work at it.  You have to work very hard it and not give up. When my students tell me something is difficult, I have one answer that they know very well.  Difficult is good!  And when I had difficult times here, I said to myself too, difficult is good.  People think that the road to success is a straight line, but more typically it is up and down. And if you want to create something, you stay with it because it’s worth it.  You work through the ups and downs. If you want to create something, you never give up, like a daruma.

This has been my path here at Keio, up and down and always working at creating something new here and trying to make a positive difference.  I created an environment where I and my students could do something different, work with very few barriers, go beyond expectations, and take a very broad view of education.  What I learned in finding my own way,  is that you don’t ask if it’s ok for you to do something, to be yourself. You don’t ask for permission. You don’t  follow the rules either, you make the rules and sometimes you break the rules.  but you don’t tell anyone. You just do it.

Thankfully there have been people here who have understood what I wanted to do here and worked  closely with me.  There are many people in this hall today who understand that philosophy.  There are people who quit careers in banking to help people in Cambodia and others who just rented a truck and brought food to Touhoku or rescued animals there. They didn’t ask if it was ok to help.  They just did it. They went up there and helped.  They never talk about themselves and they never complain. They just do it.

I recognize that in Japan it is not easy for people to create something new or even go their own way. The pressure to conform is so strong here. Being great usually means breaking away from the pack, being different from the rest of the group.    But I have news for you:  You are different than everyone else.  And I have another piece of news for you. People break away from the pack all the time here and it might as well be you.

People like Hiroshi Mikitani , founder of Rakuten, who was one of the first guest speakers I invited here, broke away. And Mr. Dyson broke away and created a vacuum cleaner for men, a vacuum cleaner without bags, a vacuum cleaner that cost 5 x more than any other.  He didn’t ask for permission.  He just did it. And it became a big success.

When you think about taking a new step or a step in a different direction, the question to ask yourself is:  “why not?”  It takes courage to be first, to break away from the pack, but you pave the way for many other people and you might even create a revolution.

People may tell you you’re crazy, but so what. Crazy people can get things done.  Crazy people change the world.  The people who criticize you are ones who are really jealous that you are doing what they wish they could do–if they did not have fear.  Be the first and you pave the way for others.  And if you’re lucky, they will call you a pioneer.

If you want to summon up your courage, there are 3 things you need to do.   First, you have deal  with your fear.  You have to know what is holding you back.  The biggest enemy of courage is fear-fear of failure, fear of success, fear of your parents, boss, fear of what other people think, fear of being called a gaijin. Recognize that you have the fear, put  your fear aside and make peace with it. What’s the worst thing that  can happen?  Lose money?  Be embarrassed?  Your mother will be upset? Lose your car?

In teaching at Keio, I have told my students to write down everything they are worried about and throw it away.  You can’t give a talk, make a plan, have a dream when you are overcome by fear. Don’t get angry at your fear. Make peace with it.  Don’t let it consume you-just keep it on the side and shake hands with it.The absence of fear gives you power beyond your imagination.

I know about fear first hand.  When I was younger, I will tell you honestly that was afraid to give a speech in class.  I was petrified.  I would be absent on days I was supposed to give a speech. Early in my career as a professor, I had a chance to work with Peter Drucker who wanted me to collaborate with him, but I skipped that chance because of fear. So, I know it, but I have learned to put my fear on the side. Sometimes this is what you have to do.

Courage also requires you to have passion, but it’s hard to have passion when you have so much fear.  That’s why I talked about fear first. If you have the passion- a fire inside you to do something, to make something happen, to do something that you absolutely have to do, then the courage will come.  Some people tell me that they don’t know what they want, they don’t feel any passion.  But I don’t believe them. I ask a lot of questions. What do you love? What do you hate?  Where do you want to be?  What kind of lifestyle do you want?  Eventually their passion surfaces.  In some cases, we are afraid to recognize the passion we have because we don’t think we can achieve it. Sometimes it’s buried and then our job is to dig it up.

The third thing you need for courage is to be with the right people.  Surround yourself with the best people.  You will be helped if you get the right people around you.  You’ve got to find the right friends and life partner too.  I am fortunate that I found someone who loves me and supports me and I found colleagues here at Keio and friends who have done the same. You can do it alone, but It helps if you have someone who supports you, who believes in you.  It could be friends, colleagues, a boss, a partner, husband or wife.  If you don’t have such a person, find them.  If you are with people who are doing nothing or don’t support you , you may need to leave them and find some who will.

Let me tell you how it all comes together.  As a consultant and researcher I was working with human resource managers and mid level managers in Japanese companies. I didn’t like it very much.  I wanted to do something big–something that would make a difference.  One of my best friends told me I shouldn’t be working with mid level managers and supervisors–I should be working with CEO’s.   I was scared out of my mind but eventually I started interviewing and working with CEO’s of foreign companies.  I needed that push. I’m forever thankful to that friend who saw potential in me.  We can do the same for others–especially as professors. we can see the potential of our students and our younger colleagues and provide support to them.  Thankfully throughout my career here, I have found excellent colleagues here.

The students and graduates who are here today are a courageous bunch, They work hard, they want to change the world, they want to start their their own companies, they have started pioneering projects, they are volunteering in Touhoku, they have left their own countries to be here, they are on the plane to Silicon Valley to work with start ups there, they are actors, they are a great bunch. They have the courage to create their own path and I’m proud of them and fortunate to be with them. They have made my life better.  Students who I work with in my classes now tell me they want to change the world, they reach out to young people in Burma and Bangladesh, they want to create their own clothing brands, they want to combine sport with business, they want to do something for Japan.  They want to be great and have fun.

They ask the tough questions:

How can I live a life that makes a difference?  Am I willing to let myself be fully alive?  Am I willing to put myself out there?  To live my values? Am I willing to be honest with everyone? With myself?

When they talk with me, they don’t ask me what’s on the exam, or how can I get an A.  They are asking the questions I always ask myself.

About eight years ago, my passion for my work here at Keio was failing and I was not sure I could continue.  I had lost my passion–it’s natural and I decided I needed a change. I thought about leaving and returning full time to consulting. Before I changed jobs, I thought I would take a trip.  If you ever feel stuck, change the environment–take a trip.  The trip I took wasn’t  a vacation at fancy hotels basking in the sun.

I took a backpacking trip around SE Asia and stayed in low price hotels and hostels, took only buses and motorbikes and ate only the local food.  I ate with people holding chickens and some holding rifles. I was in a bus that was hijacked the day before. I went all around Cambodia, Thailand and Laos carrying only a knapsack. I noticed during this one month trip that I didn’t gravitate towards talking with business people or professors.   Instead, I just instinctively went everywhere to see art and meet artists.  I had always loved art but in focusing on teaching, writing and consulting, I had pushed aside my interest in art, but your passion for creativity never dies

When I came back from my trip and went home, I knew I had to do something different and it wasn’t about leaving Keio. After I came home, I told my partner Hitoshi that I wanted to open an art gallery.  I think i caught him a bit off guard, but to my surprise, he not only said yes, but he said ok , we’ll do it together.  [See what I mean about finding the best people who will encourage you?]  Believe me this took courage because we didn’t know anything about running an art gallery.  I think he knew that if I had the passion to do this, I would have to do this. I had taught business and had been a consultant but it’s not the same as running a business. We started out first in our home and then moved to some smaller spaces and at we now have a beautiful space in Nihonbashi.  Together Hitoshi and I  created a business.

Many people ask me why an art gallery?   Believe me it was not for the money. I also can’t draw a straight line.  I tell people I had to do it because I had the passion.  I did it because I wanted to change peoples lives with art.  I did it because I wanted to help all of the artists I had met in Asia. I also tell people that the gallery is the same as my teaching. In the gallery, we are breaking down stereotypes   In the gallery we are changing peoples lives with art.  We are providing something that inspires people. In the gallery, we are encouraging people to be bold and courageous and think in new ways.

We help people in the gallery. And not just the artists.  We can see how happy people are when they add art to their life.  We created a community of art and artists and customers.  It took courage to open a gallery because it is our taste out there. we have to say “this is what I think is interesting art.”  What is very clear to me now is that the artists have great courage.  It takes courage to put your work out there where everyone can see it and say,” this is what I do”. It’s easy to copy other people but to do something that no one else has done before is what the best artists do.

These are the artists I work with.  It’s artists who are continuously changing. It’s artists who start with an empty canvas.  It’s artists who throw away the manual, who cross borders.

it’s artists who recognize that a struggle is part of life.  Although the world seems very far from business, people in business and education can learn a lot from the way artists work, especially about courage. When Muji wanted to improve their business strategy because the old strategy wasn’t working, they burned all of their old stock. Sometimes our  past can handicap us. Just like an artist, Muji started again with a blank canvas.  Stanford many years ago was not an excellent university.  They decided they would be the Harvard of the west. They set a high courageous goal and they achieved it.

One of my favorites is a Brazilian company, SEMCO that my students know about.  This is a company where employees decide their own salaries, they decide who will do what job, they decide where the factory will be located and how the products will be priced.  They break all the rules, like many artists, and are very successful.

After we started the gallery, my work here at Keio got a second wind.  I came alive again and I had more determination than ever to make a contribution to Keio.   Running the gallery brought more creativity to my teaching.  My work at Keio became more real. My writing got better.  My presentations at companies increased.  I made major changes in the way I taught, more honesty, more real, clearer, more direct. The classroom was more like a workshop than a lecture class.  I often sat in the back.  We worked on projects.  I talked less and the students took on more leadership. We talked about careers, about meaning in work, about life and about love. We created a community.  Students kept sketchbooks rather than notebooks. Students went out in the community for field trips. Students worked on projects that they implemented and we created a community beyond the classroom. Many members of that community are here today.

What I didn’t expect is that the gallery also helped me rethink the way I thought about business and about teaching too.  I began to see business and teaching in a very different way. I saw business and teaching too about: Creating Community of Customers and the people we work with; Making a Contribution to the World.  I learned that business is about relationships, learning and about trust, honesty and integrity.  If you notice that this sounds like a a traditional Japanese way of doing business, you are correct.

This year, my career at Keio comes to an end.  It is really tempting to stay on and teach a couple of classes and stay in contact with the students and colleagues who are here.  I love it here and I love Keio but to stay here would be to be untrue to my own philosophy and beliefs. Where else can I find such a wonderful community, a community that after every class, some students come up to me and say thank you to me after my classes?  It’s very comfortable here but I have always told students, “don’t be too comfortable”.  “Difficult is good”, I have told my students.  Instead get out of your comfort zone.  And that’s what I’m going to do.

And today, it’s my turn to take the next steps, to do something new.  People ask me what I am going to do. I am going to do something new, something different”.  It’s also my turn to say thank you to you all. Thank you for coming into my life and welcoming me into your community. Thank you for helping me learn  so much.  I want to tell you that It’s been an honor to be a member of this faculty. I am a better person because of you and because of Keio University. I have everyone in the room to thank for helping me develop my way here and to create something. I thank you all.

This is my least lecture at Keio but before I finish, I want to show you a chart that I  sometimes use in my classes.   On one side of the continuum is caution and on the other side is courage. Where would you put yourself on this chart?  What would it take for you for you to move one or two steps up?  Are you going to be someone who does something rather than someone who is going to do something?  Someone who will make a difference.

I urge you to find the courage to create something great. And don’t forget to have fun:  Be great and have fun. Thank You.



Grades Suck? Low GPA? Facing Hurdles? Gate Keepers? Don’t Let Them Stop You. Let Them Motivate You.

August 20, 2020

I usually like to go directly for what I want but sometimes it’s just not possible.It would have been great if I had been able to enter grad school through the normal channels but my grades weren’t good enough.I had good test scores but I was a screw-up as an undergrad and spent more time partying than studying. I majored in Rum and Coke.

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I needed to find another way to go to grad school and get the kind of job I wanted. And thankfully, a godfather appeared in the persona of Don Streets who was teaching at UMass Amherst and arranged everything I needed to enter a master’s program. Don and that master’s degree changed my life.

I had taken a course with him and he saw my potential before I did. I was able to do well in the master’s program and eventually could get another advanced degree at Boston University.

When I spoke at Boston University a few years ago, a young graduate student told me he really wanted to get a job at one of the top three strategy consulting firms but with a BU MBA he was not the kind of person they recruited. They wanted MBAs from the Top 7 MBA Schools.

I told him to try anyway but I was wrong. One of his professors suggested that the best way would be for him work for one of the super big consulting firms like Deloitte or PWC, do a great job there and then apply to one of top strategy firms. That turned out to be great advice.

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That’s what he did and he eventually landed a job with McKinsey where he is now.

Kevin Farrah whom I wrote about in my recent book faced many hurdles in obtaining a job in finance. He didn’t have the best grades, he hadn’t applied for internships, and his emails to one potential employer went unanswered. Eventually, he figured out a way to get the kind of job he wanted and it took some ingenuity and a willingness to try a different path to get what he wanted.

His first emails to hiring managers did not even receive a reply.

After two months, he wrote again telling them he would work for free. It would be a risk-free proposition for them with no cost and the option to let him go if he was not measuring up.

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His second email received one reply and he spent two years working at an investment firm while he finished his university education. This became the launching pad for his career in investment management.

Getting a full-time job was another challenge. Having failed to gain traction at any financial or consulting job opportunities in the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, he decided to try his luck at one of North America’s largest career fairs.

By that time, he recalls his father telling him to just apply for a government job that would be stable, and he actually felt doomed enough to be happy to open a hamburger stand when [not if] all else failed. He was awestruck at the number of students attending the forum; it was in the tens of thousands.

He wondered how he could ever land an investment job with his grades, the world economy in shambles, and countless competitors. He knew there was a way around this hurdle—one that would get him what he wanted.

His answer was to aim for an internship as opposed to a full-time position which he deemed would be lower in competition. He told potential employers that he was a special situation fourth-year student who would spend a fifth year in university to take additional courses of interest.

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Despite setting his graduation back by one year, it was a strategy that worked. He got the internship, was then offered a full-time job after he graduated, and is now in his tenth year at the company as an Analyst and was recently promoted to a higher position.

The hurdles—they are there and always will be there.

Your job: Figure out a way around them. The gatekeepers-they like to say no, You have to figure out a way to get them to say yes.

Good luck. There’s also some fun in jumping over the hurdles and the gatekeepers.

Adapted from my recent book, No Regrets: How To Kickstart Your Career and Your Life. Now available on Kindle and Amazon worldwide https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4799382675

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It Takes Courage To Build The Career You Want

August 5, 2020

More Career Thoughts:
It Takes Courage To Build The Career You Want

About 15 years ago, my partner Hitoshi and I decided to start an art gallery. Some of our friends thought we were nuts. We didn’t have any direct experience working in a gallery but we were looking for something creative that we could do together. I was happy in my university position but I wanted to work more with creative people.

We both love art and after a trip I took around Asia, we wanted to do something to promote the artists I had met.

We eventually opened a gallery, http://www.tobinohashi.com and built it into a business that that has brought joy as well as additional income and wonderful friends to our lives.

It has not been easy. We’ve had challenges developing a sustainable business and have made many mistakes—which we are careful not to repeat. We now represent several Asian artists whose work we now exhibit in our gallery and sell on-line.

However, it’s not only our courage in starting the gallery that I want to highlight here. It’s the courage of the artists we work with. It takes courage just to be an artist. Everyone else is telling you how hard it is to make a career as an artist, how you will be starving, and how you will never be able to live. Yet in the face of all this negativity, the artists continue to pursue their dreams.

Artists have for the most part gone against societal expectations and norms. They do not concern themselves with money or what other people think. Artists have a dream of making their art, doing their work, and nothing will keep them from doing this. One of the sculptors we represent creates large works out of wood and iron. He wanted to learn more about the sculptures of Italy.

He did not let his lack of language skills or experience abroad keep him from heading there for one year to learn more about the techniques the artisans used. He didn’t have the language skills but he used the strengths he did have. When he needed to communicate, he used his drawing skills. He just sketched out what he wanted to say and this worked for him.


I sometimes tell clients who are facing challenges at work to “go talk to an artist.” The clients learn about passion, about dreams, about courage, about doing work that matters, and more.

Do you want a very different perspective on your career that might be helpful to you? Try talking to an artist, a dancer, or a musician about the passion that drives them to create.


Adapted from my recent book NO REGRETS: How TO KICKSTART YOUR CAREER AND YOUR LIFE available on Amazon now. https://amzn.to/2Xo9Xfh




July 25, 2020

I love to get emails and questions from  former students and from readers, especially when they are humorous.

When you are changing jobs, humor really helps.

The email I got from Ricky Allen who took courses with me several years ago  came as a shock.



He had taken a job with a big bank right out of school.

Here’s what he had written:


“After a year under my belt, I have decided to take my talents somewhere else. Goodbye to banking!

Investments? It’s time to invest in myself.

Securities? I want to secure my work-life balance and friends.

Bonds? The only bond I care about is James Bond!

Matching trades? I’d rather see friends matching on Tinder.”

When I met him a week later he told me he wanted to explore other options. He didn’t expect to stay in banking much longer.

Like so many other young people I’ve known and have taught, he started a job right after university and was no longer sure the job suited him.


Going from university to work full-time is one of the biggest transitions you’ll ever make in your life. It’s common to jump in and get started without knowing the reality of the situation.

Ricky’s story may sounds familiar to you. Now the question is what to do next. I don’t worry about him so much since he has his sense of humor which I believe will serve him well in the job hunt.

But many people are not so happy with their work but are still reluctant to make a change.

What is it that stops people from taking action?

That’s I write about in my new book to help answer these questions.
[Adapted from “No Regrets: How To Kickstart Your Career and Your Life] now available on Amazon in Japan and worldwide. Learn more here


You Can’t Influence Everyone

September 1, 2019

t820D4st_400x400Hi. It’s me Bob Tobin.

Happy September.
Today I’m writing about influence. Are you someone who thinks you can influence everyone?
Although it’s a noble idea, it’s not a realistic goal for yourself.
Here are some of my thoughts and recommendations about influence

Don’t Try To Influence Everyone

You cannot have a positive impact on every one. Or influence everyone. Period.

It’s not that you aren’t that good a leader or human being. It’s just that some people are so set in their ways that it’s really hard to influence them.

And besides, you may not have the kind of relationship where you could influence them.

One more thing–you likely don’t have all that energy.

Choose the people you wish to influence and the ones you can influence-ones that relate to your business or personal life, [some of] your relatives, the people who work for you or with you, and when possible, your boss.

You can start with the people around you, your friends, your colleagues, people who you want to engage with, and the people who want to engage with you.

There are people you really don’t like, or who don’t like you, or the guy in the administrative office who is known for being rude to everyone.

Forget about them. For now. Maybe forever.

There are people who never laugh, say a kind word, or do not want to be influenced by anyone.

They may think they are so smart, can’t learn from anyone, or they may be so set in their ways that nothing can impact them.  Perhaps you know people like this.

Start with those who can be influenced.

Even more importantly, focus on those who matter to you.

Take on the others later [only if you wish].

 I talk, I write, I coach: Just contact me here if I can be of assistance.
And while you’re at it, load up Your Kindle. All My Japanese Books are On Sale
Now for as low as 778 JPY on Kindle. More info here

Become A Great Presenter: Present for Positive Impact 

August 19, 2019


Become A Great Presenter: Present for Positive Impact 

The marketing team leader at a client’s Japanese office gushed when he told me about the great presentations his team made when the CEO visited.  I was a bit skeptical and when the CEO called me in for some help, I looked at  the photos and slides she sent me for feedback.

What I saw didn’t look so great to me.  I saw team members looking at the screen not at the audience.

They had so many words on the slides I thought the projector would get a hernia.

I started coaching each of the team members on making better presentations. Here are a few of the suggestions I shared with the team members as they practiced becoming great presenters.

1. Open the software after You Know What To Say 

Don’t go right into the presentation software like Powerpoint and start typing bullet points. Prepare by writing down the most important points you want to get across and start drawing pictures and a storyboard.  The visual imagery you choose that will make a significant difference. 

2. No Complete Sentences On Your Slides

Cut out long sentences and [god forbid] paragraphs and use phrases  and images instead. You’ll get results, not dazed looks. 


3. Don’t Believe The Compliments

Everyone always compliments you after a presentation-even if it’s horrible. Don’t let these comments lull you into thinking your presentation was great.  They might be happy it’s over, or they want to be sure you don’t criticize their talk.

4. Pick Up A Copy of Presentation Zen.

I highly recommend this book and others by  my friend, Garr Reynolds, a professor at Kyoto Gaidai University who wrote Presentation Zen, among other books.  It’s available in Japanese too. His books are my guides for presenting. 

5. Think About How You Want The Audience To Feel


It’s rare to talk about feelings at work, but aren’t feelings and emotion really the basis for so much decision-making? Give thought to  how you want the audience to feel. Do you want them to feel happy? Do you want them to get a sense of urgency? Do you want them to feel motivated to take action? 

Here are a few more hints.  Step away completely from the projector or podium. Take two steps forward. Include a demonstration and more interaction in your presentation.

Enjoy the presentation. When you enjoy presenting, the audience will too.  Make eye contact, notice the audience, see the audience. And let them see you. Connect. 

Present for positive impact. 

Important presentations coming up? I can help you or members of your team, just contact me at rtbn@gol.com


Why Is It Always The Other Person Who Has To Change?

July 30, 2019

Why Is It Always The Other Person Who Has To Change?

We expect others to change, but we are often very reluctant to change ourselves. If only we would change ourselves, organizational change would be much easier.

Last week before I went in to speak with executives at a bank, a marketing VP complained , “they just don’t understand that they have to change”.

I asked how he’d feel if he were in the same position. He said, “No problem. I’m different, I love change”. Really? I wonder.


Why do most of us encounter so many problems when we lead change? What can we do to make it easier to lead change in our organizations? What can we do to make success more likely.

How can we decrease the chances of falling flat on our faces? Empathy helps. And so does choice. Change is easier when you have empathy. And change is easier when people have a choice.

The change we choose ourselves is tough enough to follow but when it is forced upon us by others, there’s bound to be resistance.

Want to implement change? The first place to start is usually with yourself–your own changes in behavior and perspective. Try this before you try anything else. At the least, you will develop empathy which helps with all kinds of change.

Change without empathy is bound to fail.


A Book, A Podcast and A Mini Case Study

July 15, 2019

t820D4st_400x400July 15, 2019

Hi. It’s me, Bob Tobin. Something a bit different today.

First, I’d like to recommend a book, “Keep Going“, by Austin Kleon, who’s written several other best-selling books.  It’s a book I loved.

IUnknown.pngf you’ve ever struggled with keeping your energy going, and your creative juices flowing [haven’t we all?] this is a book that will give you many suggestions on what you can do to keep your focus.

But this book doesn’t stop at advice. It gives many examples from the author’s own life as well as citing relevant research.

When I finished reading, I felt like I just received a big dose of encouragement. You can learn more about the book in Japanese at this link.

Second, I’d like to recommend a podcast, After Hours from Harvard Business School. In this podcast, three Harvard Business School Professors including one of my favorites, YoungMe Moon, discuss current business issues and phenomena-ones that connect business and culture.  It’s breezy, honest, insightful and often funny.

UnknownAmong the topics I’ve heard discussed are Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Vaping, Netflix, Disney, and Uber.  This podcast is like sitting in on a graduate seminar at a top university or even better, eavesdropping on very smart people discussing what you’ve been reading in the news.

You can learn more about this podcast here  and you can subscribe via Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.  And if you aren’t listening to any podcasts, now is the time to start.  There is some great content out there.

Third, kind of mini-case study, with some questions for you.

If you were the manager, what would you do in this situation.  

[A true story]

A  diner ordered a bottle of 35,000 yen red wine at an upscale steakhouse in Manchester, England and was accidentally given a  bottle of red wine with about 600,000 JPY by mistake.

A waitress at the Manchester branch of Hawksmoor,  apparently served the more expensive luxury wine by mistake.

The diners did not know that they were served the more expensive wine but the error was discovered by the manager at the end of the evening.

person pouring wine into wine glass

If you were the manager, how would you handle this situation?

What would you say to the waitress?

Would you say anything to the customer if you can track them down?

Try answering these questions before you read  here in The Guardian about  how the restaurant chain manager handled this situation.

That’s everything for this post.

If you’d like to learn more about my books and working with me, just click this link.


Courage Really Matters

July 2, 2019

Courage Matters.  And perhaps you know that the lack of courage creates its own kind of hell.  In the words of writer and spiritual healer Stephen Levine, 

“Safety is the most unsafe spiritual path you can take.  Safety keeps you numb and dead. People are caught by surprise when it comes time to die.  They have allowed themselves to live so little.”

There is an old story about a prisoner in Italy, Mario, who had been arrested for petty crimes and sent to a local prison.   He was a likable and sociable guy, and he made a lot of friends with the other prisoners. He also got along well with the guards. 

Running_Businesman_JPG-1Even the warden who was also from the same area of Sicily as Mario, befriended him.  Often the warden would stop by Mario’s prison cell and they’d share memories of their hometown.  The warden liked Mario so much that one day, he told Mario he would help him escape from the prison that evening. 

He left the key to Mario’s cell and the prison gate under Mario’s pillow.  He explained how Mario could use the keys to escape and no one would know.

The next day, the warden dropped by and expected to see Mario’s cell empty.  Instead, Mario was still there. He never used the keys, and returned them to the warden.  He told the warden, “I can’t leave.”   He had grown comfortable there where everything was predictable.  He did not want to leave for an uncertain life. Mario lacked the courage to take the key and the chance.

Mario is not alone.   If you are in a situation that you would like to change, recognize that every day you have the key, the chance to do something else. Complacency, lack of courage, and fear keep us where we are.   What about you?  


Start taking small steps towards the life you want.  Talk to a your boss about a transfer.  Invite a new colleague to join you for lunch. Ask the waiter to seat you in a quieter section of the restaurant .  

What steps can you take today?

Small steps lead to larger steps. 

Courage builds up over time, especially when your courage has positive results. 


Malls are Boring. Keep Local Shops Alive

June 25, 2019

t820D4st_400x400Hi. it’s me Bob Tobin

Malls are so boring. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all as far as I’m concerned

Unfortunately, sometimes when you are in a mall, you forget which city you are in. Too many malls could be transplanted to another city and you would hardly notice.

I love the the shopping streets you can find in some neighborhoods.  They create commuunity and you get real conversation-not the canned kind of interaction you get in the malls. Whenever I can, I shop in local shops.

Many people lament the loss of the shotengai, the traditional Japanese shopping street and the small shops that were there. 

If you want to keep the shotengai alive, support the small shops. 


These days we’re more likely to shop online or go malls where items may be cheaper and the selection is greater. But it may be worth it to pay a bit more and connect to the local community.

Shop locally to keep the small shops alive whether you are in Japan or anywhere else. When you go to the local shops, you support the family that owns the shop and you support the community.

In many cases, these small shops struggle. Your money can keep them alive at least a little longer.

Small restaurants can survive and flourish only with your patronage. When the food is good, eat in the more traditional older Japanese restaurants rather than the chain shops.

Sometimes I worry that there will be no more tonkatsu or soba shops in Japan.

When the small grocery store near my home closed, the market was bulldozed and gave way to an apartment building. We lost a place to shop and we lost a community center.

The shop owners had seen generations of people grow up in the neighborhood.

We knew the people who worked there and they knew us. When I forgot my wallet one day, they let me take my groceries home and return later with the money. This couldn’t happen at the convenience store which opened up nearby a few months later.

Historically, The small retailers found in almost every town and all over cities in Japan, have been deeply connected to their localities, providing people not only with daily necessaries and services, but also often taking the lead in community activities, such as seasonal matsuri.

According to Teruhiko Mochizuki, a professor at Tama University the hollowing out of the shotengai has caused localities to lose their character, colors and traditions, “and it is a serious problem concerning culture in this country.

Shotengai and small shops face substantial challenges, but they need not die.

You can help keep them alive. Click here to see 10 of the best according to the Tsunago website.

Isn’t it a bit boring to go to a mall or city center and see only chain shops? 

Why not go to a local family owned business today?

Want to do something different?
Contact me here: rtbn@gol.com
Website: drbobtobin.com
My  books available here 

Take a Break If You Can’t Take A Nap

June 18, 2019


Hi. it’s me, Bob Tobin

You’ve heard about those companies that have nap rooms. A nap is a great way to re-charge but it’s not practical for many people.

I’ve never even seen a nap room but I do recommend taking an energy break every day.

Maybe your company  doesn’t have a nap room either, but there are  other ways to replenish your energy.

Takin an energy break is  not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

Don’t wait for your vacation or weekend to re-charge yourself.

Do a daily re-charge. And start today.

What can you do?

Just take a short walk, get some exercise, take a a time-out from working at your desk, do some stretching, or yoga to clear your head and re-gain your energy.

Reading a book can help too.

Meditation is a great way to re-claim your energy. You don’t need to go to any school to meditate. Sit quietly, get yourself in a relaxed state and think about how you want to go through the rest of your day.

If you have some big challenges ahead or are going to meet some people you have trouble dealing with, think about what you’re going to say and imagine that you handle them competently and effortlessly.

Too many people work like crazy during the week and then re-charge or collapse at the end of the day or on the weekend or on holiday.

It may help, but why not replenish your energy on a daily basis?

You won’t have to collapse on your weekends and vacations. You can have more fun.

As you become more energetic you will find that others notice your positive energy.

You’ll also be less impacted by criticism and the negative energy that is there in others but you choose not to pick up.

What can you do to replenish your energy?

#stress  #energy   #leadership