THE CHINESE EXPRESSION, ‘CHA BU DUO’ (差不多), means ‘close enough’ and is perfect for those moments when you get served Pepsi instead of a Coke, or mistake a New Zealander for an Australian. It’s appropriate when dividing the bill among friends or buying socks at the store. But ‘cha bu duo’ is also used extensively in the Chinese workplace, and this is bad.
Its use encourages shortcuts, reduces quality, and causes delays. It creates misunderstandings between colleagues, and frustrates managers. It’s a word that would have riled Steve Jobs and other perfectionists, and for all these reasons it’s a word that you should remove from your corporate vocabulary.
The enemy of ‘cha bu duo’ is ‘kaizen’. While ‘cha bu duo’ creates imperfections every time it is uttered, kaizen generates continuous improvements. Kaizen has been used by Sony in the US to move from a production of 300,000 CDs per month to a capability to turn out 27 million CDs per month. Toyota has used kaizen to become the world’s most profitable car companies in 2008. In fact the surprising rebound of the Japanese economy, post World War II, can be directly contributed to the successful implementation of kaizen across thousands of Japanese companies, and ultimately, it removed the ‘poor’ in ‘poor quality’ to all things ‘made in Japan’. And according to The New Yorker, kaizen results in “Japanese companies get(ting) a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as US companies do.”
So whether your business is producing or servicing, a company of three or 3000, local or stretching globally, your business cannot afford to fall into ‘cha bu duo’ culture. You need to improve communication skills between colleagues, and develop your managers. Your staff need to be more confident to share problems in meetings and informally, and be able in solve these. ‘Made in China’ today might have negative connotations, but with less ‘cha bu duo’ and a lot more kaizen, China too can become synonymous with quality.