Island Style: Hawaii and Japan

On a recent trip to Singapore, Deb and I stopped in Japan to study customer service and quality standards. 

While studying quality, I came across two words, one Hawaiian and one Japanese, that truly capture the essence of “quality.”  Often however, when translating foreign words to English, the true meaning often gets misrepresented.  To discover the real meaning of the words, the conversion must take place in the "heart."  (As such, my apologies for any misrepresentation of these words.)

The Hawaiian word is “Kina’ole."  The highest form of excellence is kina'ole or flawlessness.  It is often defined in the following phrase:

"Doing the right thing

in the right way

at the right time

in the right place

to the right person

for the right reason

with the right feeling

the first time."

If everyone did that, wouldn't our products and services reach a higher standard?  Isn’t that the true island style way?

The second word, “omotenashi,” comes from Japan.  Like kina'ole, its true meaning can be "lost in translation."  Omotenashi is one of those “semi-mystical” Japanese words that seems to defy literal translation, but goes to the very heart of Japanese cultural DNA.  It basically means anticipating the needs of the customer in advance and offering a pleasant experience that goes beyond expectations. If you've ever been to Japan, I'm sure you have experienced omotenashi, a level of service far superior to what I experience in America.  

Having based my leadership development practice on a cross-cultural, eclectic blend of ideas, I've known that we can learn much from cultures outside the West.  Often, non-English words more succinctly and accurately describe core concepts of leadership. 

Furthermore, in Hawaii, as I shared in Hawaii Business Magazine’s “Doing Business Local Style” article (August 2014 issue:, Hawaii and Asia are “circular” cultures.  What goes around comes around.  You can not escape the relationship consequences of living on an island.  

With this in mind, I’ve also released my popular “Teamwork & Service Island Style” workshop across the state.  It’s not only a great workshop for honing in on your team building and customer service skills, but for new comers to the island, it’s an essential way to the start on the right foot.  If your interested in registering your employees, we sill have room in our Honolulu and Maui courses. Early-bird rates for our Kauai session expire on Friday, September 5 and registration for our Honolulu session closes on Friday, September 23.  Don’t delay, our August Hilo class sold out!