Open future center session: Japanese resilience


In mid September I had the opportunity to join as panel member at the Open Future Center Session (Fuji Xerox, Knowledge Dynamics Initiative) to discuss the needed steps for changes for research teams in Japan: “Resilience – Japan regaining the competitive edge”. In order to get a variety of viewpoints together in one room, nine members from NPO to top managers of leading Japanese technology companies acted as panel. Apart from the panel discussion about what has to be changed or what strength needs to be recovered, additionally smaller group discussions had been organized with the about 30 participants from leading Japanese companies R&D teams.
As a preparation for the event the request of describing myself with just one Kanji proved to me much more challenging than I thought. At the end as you can see from the picture above I had chosen the character of heart (心), because I believe only with passion a difference can be made, especially in the business world.
This event was for me especially interesting, because not only could I hear many viewpoints of Japanese leaders, but as well express my own thoughts on where I see from a global perspective challenges in the present Japanese business environment. As I cannot summarize all the points discussed, let me point out the aspects that stood out from my perspective. Of course these comments are solely my observations and do not reflect the opinion of other panel members or the organizer:

– In general Japanese research has to gain back the previous strength, but Japanese companies need to be careful that the process is a return to an improved point of strength and not just return to the previous status, exactly where the present problems originated.

– Keeping employees motivated is a big concern, especially as tools seem to be missing now as “Company Onsen Tours” and “Nomikai” are no more in the company budget.

– Surprisingly for me there was a strong pride in speed and action of R&D teams in Japan. Personally I see an urgent need for creating efficiency with R&D teams in Japan, because speed is not enough.

– Throughout the discussion two approaches to work crystallized: “Try what you can” or “try to make the impossible possible”. From what I observed in the discussion, Japanese employees are moving more towards the first approach and giving up, when the situation becomes too challenging. I even argue that more and more passion to work is declining. To say it in Japanese, a shift from ”やれば出来る” to ”本当にやれば、できるでしょうかなぁ?” is occurring.

– Although there might be problems coming from the top management level, I perceived a bigger challenge with the middle management, who seems rather at loss at the moment. One comment of the listeners at the end truly worried me: “I feel relieved that we did not find a solution in this discussion, because now I know, although my own company doesn’t know a solution either, it is not the problem of my company, but the society.” While this statement scared me about the lack of urgency to resolve the situation, it seems that many listeners felt reassured that they are not alone not knowing a solution.

– On the other hand a highlight for me was the confession of one participant. “Today I realized for the first time that several opinions and approaches can be correct. We do not need one opinion or one approach.”

Overall I truly enjoyed this event, but I must confess I still have my doubts whether any changes or movements to truly strengthen business in Japan towards a global level has started. On the other hand, I was reassured by one panelist who explained an example of penguins jumping for the first time into the Ocean. As soon as the first one jumps, the rest will follow. I guess, I simply need to wait until the first penguin is ready to jump in Japan.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

2 thoughts on “Open future center session: Japanese resilience

  1. This sentence “it is not the problem of my company, but the society” can be factorized in a fractal way. The bigger unit will have more importance than the smallest one. “It is not the problem of my unit, but the company” then “It is not *my* problem, but the unit.”

    The group is prime, which is often frustrating because will not change things individually or bottom-up. I goes for innovation as for quality of life, workers rights, etc. Any ideas or better actions around a culture change for improving a situation have to crystallize around the “group ontology” to be successful.

    There is a lack of individual ownership or responsibility. For the penguin, was he a strong leader? 😉 A bit like koizumi deciding to wear light shirts on Fridays to save energy and then salarymen doing it.

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