The Sun Also Rises (陽はまた昇る), starring Ken Watanabe (Westerner's will know him from The Last Samurai and Inception) is a great movie showing Japanese Leadership & Innovation at its finest -- in this case concerning the development of the VHS tape standard and VHS Video Tape Recorder by Victor Japan (JVC).
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
If it seems that we're under a constant barrage of the Western Media Myth (WMM) that (a) Japan is "failing" and that (b) this "failure" is primarily due to Japan's "talent problem" don't fret because we are.
Further, we are told that Japan's supposed "lack of talent" has manifested itself in such as way as to be responsible for Japan's supposed "lack of creativity" and "lack of innovation"".
But not to worry according to the WMM as we're then told that these "problems" that Japan faces can simply solved by (a) increasing the number of English-speaking Japanese and (b) internationalizing "backwards" Japanese-only speaking Japanese and (c) increasing the number of immigrants in Japan, preferably by engaging in a sort of US-Open Bordersfashion.
The Western Media's argument or framing of the issues, especially in terms of Japan's supposed lack of "English-speaking" talent becomes even more silly when we consider that it ignores what I have deemed the "tip of the spear" or "tip of the sword" strategy.
The Japan Expert Insights section of FirstPoint Japan is now live. In this section, we'll
explore and explode the myths and memes of what it really takes to do business
and succeed in the Japanese market today.
From innovation, diversity, recruiting, staff retention, business development, software internationalization and localization and more!
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Richard Solomon of Beacon Reports recently wrote a very thoughtful piece first questioning and then analyzing the ability of Japanese firms to complete globally (see: Can Japanese Firms Compete In Global Markets?)
I. Myths & Memes
As so often happens with this and many other topics, ranging from war to innovation to relationships and dating, the question itself is beset if not hobbled with a series of Myths and Memes which we'll explore and unravel together in a series of future articles.
II. Are Japanese Baseball Players Good Enough For Major League Baseball?
My first thought upon reading this article was simply how it parallels this modern reality: Are Japanese baseball players good enough for major league baseball?
Think about it. We used to ask this very same question about Japanese baseball players. Could Japanese baseball players make it in the major leagues? Sure, we all knew that the Japanese players were solid players, they were good, no one disputed that but we wanted to know could the Japanese baseball players really make it in the major leagues? (see: The New Age Of Japanese Baseball-Player Media Coverage Sam Robinson May 9, 2008)
III. Can Japan Compete Globally On A Military Basis?
From historical records we know that the Japanese can compete globally, industrially, cultural and, yes, even militarily. So let's start with the military perspective. Militarily, the fierce fighting tactics and spirits of Japanese soldiers during WWII lead to horrific allied battle casualties, both physical and psychological (see: Thousand Yard Stare), that in many cases easily outstripped what was encountered in the European theater (although there are obviously some exceptions). And, of course, some of the fiercest battles of WWII were held in the Pacific theater: Tarawa. Saipan. Midway. Coral Sea. Marshall Islands, Eniwetok. Guadalcanal. Iwo Jima, and, of course,Okinawa all come to mind along with the horrific casualties and loss of life among both soldiers and civilians.
A big thanks goes out to Roukan.com as Roukan.com's Work Environment Surveys Solution Is Now An Official Sponsor of FirstPoint Japan.
Japan aims to return to Walkman glory days
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.
The Global & Mail (Stuart Braun):
Japan ranked first worldwide in ‘Capacity for innovation’ on the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Competitiveness Report, and second in terms of Company Spending on R&D. Is this reflected in real ongoing innovation in Japan?
According to the "Global Innovation Barometer" survey by General Electric Co. released in March, Japan's self-assessments were the lowest among the surveyed countries. Does this surprise you in light of the WEF competitiveness report? What is causing the dissonance in these views of Japanese competitiveness and innovation?
SiliconEdge (James Santagata):
For decades Japan has been churning out innovation after innovation, some of which are both very visible and "sexy", such as today's automobiles or when Japan dominated the video entertainment and portable audio player market. Many other innovations, such as those by Toray composites, are critical albeit invisible as they are industrially rather than consumer focused. Nevertheless, this innovation continues today.
Paradoxically, while rest of the world recognizes Japanese prowess in regards to innovation, the Japanese themselves are much less impressed by their innovations. Partly this can be explained by Japanese tendencies towards humility and introspection. Beyond this, however, much more can be attributed to the perceived (from the Japanese perspective) if not actual lack of visible let alone "sexy" innovations, primarily in the consumer space.
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