Outdoor ‘camp’ helps workers fight postbubble frustration

When asked to draw a symbol of their company, participants in Anthony Willoughby’s courses often draw pictures of sinking ships and burning buildings. “We’ve even gotten some fire-breathing dragons,” Willoughby added.

As founder and president of the quirkily named I Will Not Complain International (IWNC), a corporate training company that uses a unique combination of outdoor activities and seminars to help companies improve productivity and motivation, Willoughby and his staff must pinpoint a corporation’s troubles as quickly as possible. “These drawings,” Willoughby said, “are a good way for (participants) to show how they feel about where they work. The postbubble economy has demoralized many employees … they don’t understand their company’s vision or goals and are often quite frustrated.”

IWNC, which Willoughby founded in 1989, is based in the rural town of Misaki, Chiba Prefecture, and offers corporations a novel framework to address these problems that, as general manager Jeremy Perks said, “are usually only mentioned at drinking parties.” This “framework” includes everything from rock climbing and rope courses to group brainstorming about the corporate strategic plan.

But Willoughby said that in the beginning, the idea of a camplike atmosphere made some companies nervous. “At first, most Japanese thought the courses would be like the ‘hell camps’ … where they try to strip you of any individuality and tell you things like, ‘To think you will be liked by your employees is ridiculous,'” he said, adding that he had participated in one of these camps and knew that this was “how not to motivate people.”

In contrast, the regular three-day IWNC course, which costs 170,000 yen per person, consists of comfortable accommodations, good meals and plenty of rest. According to Willoughby, the emphasis of the program depends on what the client requires, but usually it centers around either team-building or upper-management goal-setting.