• 25 . 05 . 04
  • The Sanyo Ark is a sculpture outside a factory in Gifu. It sounds like a lovely idea, but it’s also a (not so) subtle message to its employees each morning.

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The Sanyo Ark

Sanyo, a huge, international electronics company has a technology park and production facility not far from here. A couple of years ago Sanyo fulfilled an order for around 1,000 solar panels and shipped them to the customer. The customer, having performed its own tests concluded that each panels were not working at 100% efficiency, and the power output was slightly below that specified in the contract. From what I’ve heard, we’re talking microvolts here, a really small differential from the specification. Of course, being a responsible company, Sanyo took all the panels back, as well as pulling the panels from other orders it was working on. All run of the mill stuff, not particularly interesting.

Sanyo is a Japanese company, which means that individuals are not singled out for bad performance. There is a great belief in teamwork, and if one person fails, the whole teams fails. Accordingly, as one team had made a mistake, the blame was taken on by the company as a whole. This is a particularly admirable aspect of the Japanese work environment. So, how did the company react to such a stain on its honour? By building a 315 meterlong sculpture, using the defective solar panels. Where did they build this structure? Why, in the grounds of the production facility of course. Right in front of the car park. In fact, positioned so that every worker, every day could see it as they came to work, and be reminded of their shared failure. Apparently it is supposed to be a motivational tool, and there is even a corporate website. There was a big unveiling ceremony to present it as a gift of the company to the workers. It even came wrapped in a 100 foot red ribbon bow.

It is even a working structure, as the electricity it generates is fed back into the facility (albeit not quite as much as it should). The Sanyo Ark, as it is known, is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction. A cynical European might suggest it was done entirely as a publicity stunt but, having lived here for a while now, I think this is just a beneficial side-effect for the company. The real intention, according to a couple of workers who I have spoken to, is to remind the workers to do their best every day and that they were being watched. A nice idea, but with worryingly Big Brother-esque overtones; “Sanyo Ark is Watching You”.

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