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Honda and the Joy of Engineering

written by Bridget Grenville-Cleave 3 December 2012
My Honda Keys

Bridget Grenville-Cleave, MAPP graduate of the University of East London, is a UK-based positive psychology consultant, trainer and writer. She is author of Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide (2012), and The Happiness Equation with Dr Ilona Boniwell. She regularly facilitates school well-being programs and Positive Psychology Masterclasses for personal and professional development. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter @BridgetGC. Website. Full bio. Her articles are here.

I recently had the privilege of attending an Open University Business School ‘Business Perspectives’ Masterclass at which Ken Keir, the Executive Vice President of Honda Motor Europe, talked about the way innovation, the  lifeblood of the Honda company, drives its success.

Even though he focused on Honda’s R&D philosophy, explaining for example how, in recessionary times, the company goes against the tide and invests more in R&D rather than less, by the time we reached slide 5 of the presentation on the Honda strategy, vision, values, and behavior, it was pretty clear to me that here is a company founded on positive psychology principles.

What intrigued me was that Ken Keir didn’t mention positive psychology once. For all I know, he has never even heard of it. However, if you look at how Honda operates strategically, how it works day-to-day as well as the kind of language it uses to describe the business, it’s pretty clear that it’s a strengths-based company through and through.

How did I reach this conclusion?

An Organization Based on Three Joys

Quite simply, Honda is a company which lives and breathes its values.

Back in 1951 the founder, Mr Soichiro Honda, outlined in a Management Policy document the principles on which the Honda Company is based.

It may surprise you to discover that these are:

  1. The joy of making
  2. The joy of selling
  3. The joy of buying

Now many corporate leaders might raise their eyebrows at this point and baulk slightly at the use of the word joy. If you’ve worked in the corporate environment you’ll know how pretty much any mention of emotions is unwelcome, especially positive ones like joy, kindness, and awe. The only time emotion really gets its foot over the corporate threshold is when we’re talking about that rather rational and sanitized topic, emotional intelligence. The difference here is that Honda brings these three values alive. It lives and breathes them in everything it does. You could say that the Three Joys are its raison d’être.

The Joy of Making

Take the joy of making. Ordinarily engineering isn’t a term which lights many fires, unless you happen to be an engineer. Engineers are not known for their people skills nor their positive emotion. In fact engineering tends to be perceived as a bit dull. Dry even. And definitely dusty. Engineering is a highly technical, specialized domain, dominated by deep-thinking, serious left-brainers.

But just read Soichiro Honda’s explanation of the first joy:

the joy of producing…is a joy known only to the engineer. Just as the Creator used an abundant will to create in making all the things that exist in the natural universe, so the engineer uses his own ideas to create products and contribute to society.”

So what does this tell us? Firstly, that the joy of making, the engineering that is at the heart of the Honda company, is its strength. Secondly that Honda encourages its engineers to embrace and play to their strengths, rather than try to be something they’re not. Thirdly, Soichiro Honda clearly saw that using this strength in the service of something greater was crucially important to the success of his company. More than half a century later positive psychology research tells us that this is the essence of finding meaning and a key to flourishing.

Mr Honda continued,

This is a happiness that can hardly be compared to anything else. Furthermore, when that product is of superior quality so that society welcomes it, the engineer’s joy is absolutely not to be surpassed. As an engineer myself, I am constantly working in the hope of making this kind of product.”

Not only does he refer to joy, but also to happiness and hope.

The Joy of Selling

The second joy, the joy of selling, arises naturally from the creation and manufacturing of high quality, high performing, reasonably priced products.

“…it goes without saying that the people who engage in selling it will experience joy… What sells well generates profits, as well as pride and happiness in handling those items…”

Students of positive psychology will have come across the study by Martin Seligman that suggests that optimistic sales people are more successful at selling. What sales people wouldn’t be passionate and optimistic about selling a product that they knew would delight their customer?

The Joy of Buying

The third joy, the joy of buying, is the sole preserve of the customer, the person who buys a Honda, whether that’s a motorbike, a lawnmower with a Honda engine, or a car. I’m currently driving my 4th Honda, so I can personally vouch for the joy of buying. The way Soichiro Honda describes this third value makes you believe that other people’s happiness is the sole reason the company exists:

“It is neither the manufacturer nor the dealer that best knows the value of the product and passes final judgment on it. Rather, it is none other than the purchaser who uses the product in his daily life. There is happiness in thinking, “Oh, I’m so glad I bought this.” This joy is the garland that is placed upon the product’s value. I am quietly confident that the value of our company’s products is well advertised by those products themselves. This is because I believe that they give joy to the people who buy them.”

So in these three, deceptively short and simple values, we have a whole positive psychology philosophy, culture, and way of doing business. As Soichiro Honda concluded,

The Three Joys form our company’s motto. I am devoting all my strengths in order to bring them to reality’


Learning from Honda: Creating Your Own Company Joys?

So what can we learn from Honda’s Three Joys? I’d suggest the following:

  1. Stick to what you’re good at! Allow, encourage and facilitate all your employees to play to their unique strengths. This assumes that a) you know what their strengths are and b) you need these strengths in your company.

  3. Don’t shy away from positive emotions at work. They have a place in every successful company. If this seems a bit scary, you could start by looking at how to create a more healthy balance of right brain and left brain, feeling and thinking, intuition and analysis. Alternatively, if you had to suggest Three Joys for your company, what would they be and why?
  4. Make meaning important. People want to know how the work they do benefits others, especially customers, clients, patients and society generally. Help them make those connections and find ways to reinforce them.

When I heard Ken Keir speak I was expecting only to find out about Honda’s innovation and creativity. Instead I also discovered a company imbued with positive psychology principles. Every time I drive my Honda I’ll be thinking about the Three Joys. And every time I meet an engineer I’ll be reminded of why you should play to your strengths.



Honda, Soichiro (1951). The three joys. Honda Monthly #4.

Britton, K. (2009). Laugh-o-meters needed at work. Positive Psychology News Daily.

Seligman, M. E. P. & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 832-838.


Honda the power of dreams courtesy of by S1m0nB3rry

You meet the nicest people on a Honda courtesy of gingerbeardman

My Honda keys courtesy of Ankur Gulati

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Christine Duvivier 4 December 2012 - 1:58 pm

Bridget, Thank you for the terrific article on Honda’s Joys! I hadn’t seen his quotes on this before and I love them. I love that he was using this language and approaching his business with joy so long ago. As you say, it’s clearly reflected in the joy people feel buying and driving his products. Like you, I found joy in buying one of his cars early in my adult life.

I linked to your article from a blog post today — not sure I can give you the link here but it’s on http://www.christineduvivier.com/2012/12/love-the-idea-again/.

FYI, I include Soichiro Honda in some of my talks– as an example of a successful adult who was in “The Bottom 80%” of his high school class!

Thanks for a great article!

Oz 5 December 2012 - 4:17 am

Bridget – I have quals in engineering and psych. I can tell you unequivocally that engineers demonstrate greater levels of well-being than psychologists. So perhaps pp might look more broadly to engineers for some insights.

Bridget Grenville-Cleave 5 December 2012 - 5:58 am

Hi Christine

Thanks for your comments. I’m constantly amazed at how much positive psychology is round when you start looking for it (there’s a psychological term for that phenomenon isn’t there – I can’t recall what it is offhand).

And what a coincidence that Soichiro Honda was a ‘Bottom 80™ student’… I must explore this a bit further – so thanks so much for making that connection for me.

You mention motivation in your blog post – and I guess there are connections to grit, determination etc, even though these seem much less ‘joyful’ ideas…

Perhaps that will be one of my News Year’s Resolutions – doing things for the joy of it – I’ll suggest it to Kathryn & Senia for the New Year PPND post.

Warm wishes

Jackie Le Fevre 6 December 2012 - 5:18 am

Thank you so much Bridget for an insightful and straightforward account of the world according to Honda. What great core values! I am privileged to work with a wide range of organisations – many of which are charities – and it is noticeable to me how many intuitively want to have ideas connected to play, imagination, ingenuity, fun in their values but self limit against the terms out of concern for how the outside world will perceive them as perhaps frivolous or flighty.

Now I can share your article with them and say “hey, if it does the business for a global brand there’s no reason why you should not have joy front and centre if that’s what your heart wants.”

All good wishes


Bridget Grenville-Cleave 6 December 2012 - 5:23 am

Hi Oz

Good to hear from you – please share your thoughts about engineering and well-being.

It is an interesting question, which professions have higher well-being. I met a lawyer the other day who argued strongly that lawyers are, on average, less depressed than other professionals. We talked about meaning, flow, SDT and so on. Maybe not tons of positive emotion, even when a case was won, but definitely lots of eudaimonic well-being.

Warm wishes

Christine Duvivier 6 December 2012 - 9:52 am

Hi Bridget, thanks for all of your feedback online and I love your New Years’ post idea, thanks!

Thank you again for a terrific article!

Warm wishes for Happy Holidays,

Bridget Grenville-Cleave 6 December 2012 - 10:28 am

Hi Jackie

Thanks for your feedback. Yes that’s exactly what I was thinking too.

The Three Joys are so clearly part of what Honda is, there is no questionning their authenticity. Not in a million years would I call Honda frivolous or flighty.

Good luck with persuading your organisations to ‘be true to themselves’. Let us know how you get on.

Warm wishes

Bridget Grenville-Cleave 6 December 2012 - 10:31 am

Hi again Christine

You’re very welcome!

Happy Holidays to you too

Warm wishes from the UK

Judy Krings 8 December 2012 - 8:32 am

Great article, Bridget, that reminds me how “3’s” hit home and are easy to remember. Like the “3 gratitudes” to notice and even better write down everyday. And the 3 wishes, “If I were living my BEST SELF LIFE, what are 3 things that I would like/want/need (another 3!) need to change?”

Great info and super format, too! Many thanks, Bridget.


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