In an effort to climb back to its Walkman glory days, Japan is investing heavily in R&D, especially in its technology strongholds. But the culture may not have the same appetite for risk as its competitors and may be outpaced by more aggressive countries, experts say.
When Japan exclusively developed and manufactured Walkmans, Honda hatchbacks and Nintendos, it was set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. Today, Japan continues to be a world-leading high-tech innovator. Yet in commercial terms, the competition has caught up, and is often running ahead. As the Apples and Samsungs of the world outcompete Sony and Panasonic, Japanese companies are trying to revive the country’s economic miracle.
Others argue that Japan’s declining competitiveness is less a lack of innovation than of leadership. “Innovation by itself, though mesmerizing, is worthless without productization. And productization is worthless without monetization,” says James Santagata, managing director of SiliconEdge, a Tokyo-based leadership development consultancy working with startups in Japan and the United States.
Mr. Santagata describes a number of pioneering innovations emerging from Japanese corporate R&D, such as Sony’s Location Free TV. “Yet due to corporate constraints on monetization of these innovations for fear of rocking the boat, or cannibalizing some products, they allow scrappy firms like Sling Media [U.S. producer of the Slingbox Internet TV interface] to come from behind that gobble up the market,” he says.