Dr. Bob Tobin is a consultant, author, and public speaker who has worked with some of the world’s largest organizations and companies. He was the first American full-time professor at Keio University, one of Japan’s top universities, and has taught and inspired many clients and students on how to create a better, happier life at work. He has also written for The Diplomat about the art scene in the Asia-Pacific.
Tobin has recently published the book, What Do You Want to Create Today? Build the Life You Want at Work, which is about his teachings on leadership, communication, achieving your dreams, and creating a life for yourself at work that you are happy with. It is an interesting perspective for those who have lost a sense of self-fulfillment at work, caught up in dealing with the cold realities of trying to maintain a career. One of the first questions that the reader is faced with in the book is to identify what would make them happy. Tobin then offers a step-by-step guide on how to achieve whatever that dream might be. After reading his book, a higher salary or a new boss may seem less important.
Tobin describes his move to Japan as the turning point for himself and his career. Before Japan, he was living comfortably in California with a well-paid job and a nice house by the beach, yet he was not happy. He describes that point in his life as just “following the pack.” He relocated to Asia for a new project with the military, and then eventually decided that rather than move back to the U.S., he would settle in Japan. For Tobin, Japan was the perfect place to use what he had learned, and to learn more. The influence of Japanese culture upon him is apparent, as throughout the book Tobin gives many examples and references of Japanese culture in explaining how to build a satisfying career.
Tobin puts great emphasis in the book on the importance of “reading the air,” which comes from the popular Japanese expression, “kuuki yomu.” This means paying attention to things you can’t see, such as the nature of how things work in a particular environment. Many Japanese already do this. Without “reading the air” beforehand, companies that value harmony and team work can be negatively affected. Tobin provides detail and examples as to how people can use this skill in an unfamiliar environment.
However, being a foreigner in Japan also played a role. He tells The Diplomat, “I have had to find my way as a foreigner in Japan, and that has meant not fitting in, but also trying to figure out where I can add the most value.” Communities can tend to be closed in Japan, which poses a challenge for outsiders, but Tobin seems to take advantage of it.
In the book, Tobin talks about how he gave up the more confrontational business style he used in the U.S to learn about being part of a group. “It is important to recognize that business in Japan has other goals or even purposes, such as providing employment, supporting the community, providing stability, [and] not necessarily in generating huge profits,” he told The Diplomat. For Japan, an aggressive approach is not necessarily the key to getting things done quickly, and can even negatively affect an organization. As Tobin noted, Japan is a country that prefers to avoid conflict.
He also explains that the appreciation Japan has for beauty in different aspects of life still continues to fascinate him. Tobin always had an interest in art, which took on a new role while living in Japan as now he runs an art gallery with his partner, named one of the top four places to see art in Tokyo by TIME magazine. When asked about running an art gallery in Tokyo, Tobin says Japan can be a tough place for artists, since Japanese and Asian art is still not yet main stream for Western collectors. For this reason, he holds many events to introduce local artists.
Not only is Tobin’s book helpful for those who want to pursue a different and more meaningful life at work, it is also an insight into Japan’s unique culture. Tobin has learned to utilize and embrace that culture to benefit his own career. His engaging book deftly shows how it might benefit yours.