Self-defeat and Pride: Surprising Synonyms


Crista Perlton

Crista Perlton


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Self-defeat and Pride: Surprising Synonyms

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Finding balance (Chōwa) between positive and negative pride is difficult. Too humble, and you become a cog in the machine of your organization, never standing out or getting credit for your accomplishments. Too prideful, and you are the colleague no one likes to be around, embarrassing and exhausting your coworkers through your rudeness. Find the balance with Jifu.

This piece is part of our Chōwa blog series.

What is Jifu?

Jifu (pronounced gee-foo) is very difficult for “Westerners” to comprehend. The rough translation—“pride in one’s ability or accomplishments—is pretty straightforward. The characters that make the word, however, are another matter: Jifu is written with the characters 自 (self, myself ) and 負 (defeat).

“Self-defeat” means “pride”? While the characters may seem to contradict the meaning, Jifu reflects the humble journey of many failures leading to success in Japanese culture.

Inedo is proud to be Midwestern, where “showing off” is considered rude and humility is valued over pride. The lesson of Jifu is fully compatible with our foundational values because it indicates taking pride, rather than being prideful. Most of us have experienced both Jifu and bragging: it is the difference between the deserved “well done!” at the end of a project and loudly emphasizing your own job well done in the breakroom. (And most of us would agree that the second one is unpleasant!)

In our context of Chōwa, Jifu means taking pride in one’s work. It is obvious when someone takes no pride in their work, manifesting in careless mistakes to sloppy, lousy work products. Jifu means knowing you have value, and your work is an extension of that value. The results of your work are worth celebrating.

We take pride in our work at Inedo, which shows in the quality of our products and our support. And we have worked hard to create an environment where employees have enough context to be successful and to feel invested in their work. 

Jifu in Practice

Seikō and Jifu teach us to honor milestones along the way in projects and careers. We celebrate our own achievements and pat our colleagues on the back for theirs. Every individual gets a fair chance to shine and should feel comfortable praising others and accepting praise from colleagues.

To practice Jifu, executives and managers should be generous with giving praise AND create opportunities for staff to report successes. This doesn’t mean creating an obnoxious, slap-on-the-back culture. Instead, foster a congenial atmosphere where colleagues, subordinates, and leadership are comfortable expressing a “job well-done” お疲れ様 (otsukare sama) to one another. 

There are two easy ways to start this process.

  1. Give liberal praise to those who pull the Andon cord. It takes courage to point out a problem or give constructive criticism to the company. (This is why Toyota sets their Andon cord to music, not just a light, to really celebrate.)
  2. Set a time (like a weekly meeting) where everyone on the team shares something they are proud to have accomplished that week, even if it isn’t work-related. People may find it easier to report on work successes if they are already used to sharing their successes in general with a group.

There are plenty of ways to foster Jifu, but these two suggestions can get you started.

Get the Chōwa Book

Jifu is just one of the many elements of Inedo’s new cultural philosophy of Chōwa, or “natural balance.” We will be explaining the various elements of Chōwa here on our blog and on our social media (TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn). Subscribe to these channels and download your copy today to learn about Inedo’s unique cultural philosophy of Chōwa:

Crista Perlton

Crista Perlton