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Stick to the Basics

It may be surprising to hear from someone like myself, who advocates for IT development in accounting firms, but I believe that the most important aspect of being a professional is to perform ordinary tasks as a matter of course. This stems from deep personal reflection on a time early in my career when I thought that ordinary tasks were boring, and by failing to focus properly I wound up making my own work boring.

My first job after graduating university was in the auditing department of an accounting firm. To be honest, I had only a vague understanding of what accountants actually did; my main thought was that I would be a smartlooking businessman, wearing a suit and tie, working in America! I would look dashing in my suit, commuting to and from my Manhattan office, working smartly and efficiently, and occasionally flying to Japan on business trips. That was the image I had for myself.

I started off confidently after getting hired in that first job, but the tasks that I found waiting for me were things like the reconciliation of invoices and inspection of inventories... in short, the sorts of tasks that are delegated to underlings. I would retrieve invoices from file drawers and compare them with account ledgers, thinking all the while that this was not the glamorous working life that I’d had in mind. Day after day I did these lowly tasks over and over. During the audit of one client company, I reconciled over 50 bank accounts by myself. For those unfamiliar with accounting, it was essentially checking to see if 50 bank statements were correct; fastidiously and monotonously repeating the same simple tasks again and again. I was dissatisfied, wondering what I was doing there after having studied so hard at university and successfully competed for my position. To be fair, I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Many of my colleagues had similar doubts, and they made no secret of their dissatisfaction.

However, I realized something as I continued with what appeared on the surface to be the same repetitive tasks. What should have been exactly the same set of processes turned out to differ somewhat at each client, with different workflows and report formats, for example. Even with something as basic as a bank account reconciliation table, some companies would have each one clearly organized to illustrate the main points, while others would just show columns of numbers. Some companies would have more mistakes and omissions than others. There was actually quite a bit of variety. Similarly, I started looking at the formats used by my senior colleagues. Predictably, the ones who were held in high regard all used consistent formats that allowed others (such as their junior colleagues) to easily understand what was being presented, regardless of the specific task or report. On the other hand, those who were constantly complaining tended to use inconsistent and somewhat haphazard formats. Even with ordinary tasks delegated to underlings, a commitment to excellence makes a clear difference in the results.

When I started looking repeatedly at basic reports, I realized what the wellconstructed ones all had in common: an obvious objective, a specific methodology, practically applicable content, and a clearly stated conclusion. These things may sound completely ordinary, but in fact these ‘ordinary’ things are, for whatever reason, very often missing. Furthermore, I realized that when just these ‘ordinary’ things are adhered to, the chances of errors are considerably reduced. After coming to these realizations, I began to perceive the true essence of work that may appear simple, and to think more about how to approach this work. And when I started thinking more about my work, it started to become enjoyable. Yet, nothing had actually changed about the content of the work itself. But by coming to understand its significance and purpose, I made an effort to do it better, to produce reports that others would be able to make sense of, and that transformed even monotonous-seeming work into something enjoyable. And as I came to enjoy my work, I gradually earned the respect of those working around me.

“Every year there are ballplayers who are suddenly noticed, but it’s not that their talent ‘suddenly’ bloomed. In fact, they had been exerting themselves for years previously.” These are the words of Hiroki Kuroda, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. Kuroda goes on to say, “The important thing is not the amazing plays that happen during the games, but how seriously you can undertake all the monotonous and seemingly boring basic practice.” In the end, no matter what field you’re in, it’s actually the basic practice that is more important than anything else.

In business, not everyone can do revolutionary work like coming up with the iPhone. But what everyone can in fact do, by way of effort, is to work in a way that focuses faithfully and reliably on the fundamentals. We cannot all be geniuses, but we can make efforts over time to elicit the talents we do have to the greatest possible extent.

I must confess that I have made many mistakes in my past work. But these mistakes only happened when I failed to stick to the basics. I have caused problems for my clients, and have had to make earnest apologies. It is because of these repeated bitter experiences that I have come to understand the importance of being faithful to the fundamentals. However, I feel that we have staff members who don’t yet fear this underlying cause of failure, and that is why the first rule in our company regarding technology is, ‘Stick to the Basics.’

The CEO must take responsibility for any mistakes made by employees. As the CEO, I myself will be faithful to the fundamentals, and will undertake my work with an honest and steady hand. I humbly ask for your assistance and cooperation as we go forward.


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