Category: innovation

Microsoft Digital Youth Awards

I recently participated in something called the Microsoft Digital Youth Award 2013

It was interesting in that it was part promotion of Microsoft’s new Windows 8 Operating System running on the Surface Tablet and also part getting people with diverse backgrounds to think of interesting applications for the new format. I had contributed to some of the development of the award itself and apparently it had over 1,100 applicants.

By the time we did the 1st round of judging, it was whittled down to 22 applicants. In the final round of judging, it was down to 12 finalists.

Here are the judges for the event:

Here are the 2013 winners: Congratulations!

Some news articles that have come out on the event itself:

March 6th, 2013 09:41 PM

Reigniting Japan’s Entrepreneurial Energy

When I lecture at universities on innovation and entrepreneurship, I show students a slide (below) of the top 50 innovative companies in the world and the year they were founded (the list source is not important, but in this case, it was from Business Week). Besides the fact that only four Japanese companies are listed here, there are some other striking points to note:

1. No world-class companies have been founded in Japan since 1946; and

2. Japan’s major companies (and others on the list) grew out of a time of crisis in that nation’s history.

(Actually, there are at least five unique points in this slide – maybe a future post…)

This begs the question we will deal with first: Why? And another essay will look at what kinds of innovative companies we can expect to emerge from this current crisis, caused by unprecedented natural (and manmade) disasters.

Japan’s defeat in 1945 unleashed a wave of entrepreneurial energy that stunned the world as it swamped global markets three decades later.
It began in burned-out cities with demobilized soldiers desperately seeking rice to put on the table and a way to recover their shattered pride. With nothing to lose, they had no fear of taking risks in order to succeed.
In Shinagawa, Sony’s founders, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, tinkered with rice cookers and radios. In Hamamatsu, Soichiro Honda strapped small engines on bicycles. On the very edge of Hiroshima’s blast radius, survivors at Toyo Kogyo scrambled to produce three-wheeled trucks under the Mazda brand.
This desperate entrepreneurial energy drove postwar Japanese to amass more wealth in the span of a single lifetime than any generation of human beings in history. For awhile their momentum seemed so unstoppable that rivals began to contemplate the likelihood of “Japan as Number One.”

Then, the momentum suddenly disappeared after 1991.

May 18th, 2011 07:58 PM

The Economist Debate – Rebuttal

As I mentioned last week, I am participating in an online debate with The Economist. You can follow the debate and vote online for the issue you feel is more important.

Here is the rebuttal I just posted based on the opening statements by my opponent, the moderator and feedback/comments I received from the various participants.

My rebuttal:
I am delighted by the response this debate has produced. Many thoughtful readers have pointed out that the initial premise of the debate is unnecessarily dualistic: it suggests an either/or dichotomy that seems unrealistic. Most people seem to believe that we need some combination of incremental and disruptive innovation, and both Mr Merrill and I agree. Where we differ is in the relative importance of the two.

Although I firmly believe there is an important distinction to be made between invention and innovation, several readers have brought up examples of famous disruptive inventions to bolster the case against incrementalism. What strikes me in looking at the history of great inventions is how often the same innovative steps happened in parallel. The major advances that gave us the radio, telephone, automobile and airplane took place in different countries at roughly the same time. In fact, the people we call “inventors” were often just the first to file an acceptable patent application. This goes to show that in every period there were sufficient incremental innovations creating an environment that allowed various people to achieve similar results. It was this huge, fertile field of experience and knowledge that allowed multiple individuals to connect the dots in the same way and move to the next step. In retrospect, that next step was truly disruptive, but the process of getting to it was unquestionably one of assimilating and building upon earlier developments.

For instance, many readers pointed to the automobile as an example of disruptive innovation and Mr Merrill brought up Henry Ford, who of course did not invent the automobile, did not invent mass production and was not the first to apply mass production to the automobile.

March 11th, 2011 02:26 AM
Author whsaito
Comments 1 Comment

Participating in The Economist’s online debate on innovation

I’ve been asked by The Economist to participate in an online debate. I’ve spoken for The Economist on several occasions as panelist and even keynote speaker, but this is a first for an online debate. The motion for the debate is “This house believes Japanese ‘incremental innovation’ is superior to the West’s ‘disruptive innovation.’” The debate will run online from March 8th to 18th.

Ex-Google CIO Douglas Merrill will be debating that ‘disruptive innovation’ is superior. You can follow the debate and vote online about which you feel is more important.

My intro opening:

Growing up in the West, we learn the myth of disruptive innovation early on. We are taught that inventions such as the telegraph, telephone, automobile, airplane and yes, even things like the iPod and Google prove that real genius lies in inventing something that shakes up the world and shatters the old status quo. We instinctively prefer sensational, disruptive innovation because it catches our attention and it reflects the qualities in both the individual and the organization that we admire most.

Yet I believe that the Western emphasis on disruptive innovation is not as desirable — for either a company or an economy — as a culture of steady, incremental innovation such as that found in Japan.

Of course, there is no modern economy that has only one without the other. Some disruption is always necessary, and the two approaches ultimately work hand-in-hand. Disruption creates new product categories, while incremental refinement polishes them and makes them smaller, cheaper, faster and better. Incremental innovation is like evolution: it may move slowly, but it may also produce what appear to be radically new, even disruptive events. On closer examination, though, we see that these disruptive forms grew out of the same creative gene pool as their predecessors. For example, we would not have created the telephone or airplane through incremental innovation, yet that is precisely the process that led from those early inventions to the iPhone and the 747.

March 8th, 2011 09:06 AM
Author whsaito
Comments 1 Comment

Innovation Japan

Here is an interesting statistic I use in my entrepreneurial class, various speeches and eluded to at last Saturday’s MIT D-Lab event.  The statistics is from the BusinessWeek/Boston Consulting Group (BCG) World’s top 50 innovative companies for 2008.  Obviously, the main intent of this list is to rank the innovative companies for that year.  While the companies listed and the ranking itself may be debatable, I find this list useful in explaining the current state of Japan.  The slide I’ve created includes just the top 25 companies ranked in order.  On top of this, I’ve added the year each corporation was founded.

1. Apple 1976
2. Google 1998
3. Toyota 1933
4. GE 1892
5. Microsoft 1975
6. Tata Group 1868
7. Nintendo 1889
8. P&G 1837
9. Sony 1946
10. Nokia 1865
11. 1994
12. IBM 1920
13. RIM 1984
14. BMW 1916
15. HP 1939
16. Honda Motor 1946
17. Walt Disney 1923
18. General Motors 1908
19. Reliance 1966
20. Boeing 1916
21. Goldman Sachs 1869
22. 3M 1902
23. Wal-Mart 1945
24. Target 1902
25. Facebook 2004

Some interesting things that I find from this list to point out.  First, all four Japanese companies (hilighted in red) were all formed on or before 1946.  Second, about half the US companies on the list were formed AFTER 1975.  Finally, that most of the companies on this list were founded in times of recession or other financial crisis.
It might be interesting to compile the cap tables for these companies and see how the newer companies are valued (I’m guessing higher) relative to the older companies.  I guess the conclusions I’m coming here is how there hasn’t been any new Japanese companies in the top 25 for over 60 years.  In my class and various discussion sessions, we try to discuss why that is. 
March 22nd, 2010 02:09 PM
Author whsaito
Category Global, innovation, Japan
Comments No Comments

Japan Go Global

For the last several weeks, I have travelled to several countries in Africa and the Middle East to talk with various governments about their S&T, innovation and entrepreneurial policy.  Everywhere I go, everyone has the same comments about how Japan is mature, stable and a nation that has everything.  People look to Japan as an innovative country with money, technology, global corporations and name brands.  Many countries also recognize Japan as a leader in clean technology even before the word “green” became popular and fashionable. 

Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, Japan has been in a economic and political malaise.  GDP has not grown at all (in comparison, China has grown 9x in the same period) and it has responded by retreating ever deeper inward.  With this, the number of companies, bureaucrats and especially students who go overseas have declined sharply.  The only benefit that has come from this is that the governments who lauded and admired Japan during my trip only had the view of Japan from 20 years ago – during the heydays of the bubble era.  However, the bad news is that Japan has become increasingly globally irrelevant – in the 1980’s, it was “Japan bashing”, in the 2000’s it was “Japan passing” and now its “Japan missing“. 

The reality is that no one has been willing to make hard choices.  People continued to work without sense or purpose while the government creates various moral hazard by propping them up with taxpayer money and creating a debt load that approaches 200% of GDP.  Similarly, private corporations have missed out on globalization and are becoming globally less relavent.  In fact, at several trading companies (who’s job it is to facilitate global trade with anyone and everyone), many new employees specifically request domestic assignments only.

Japan going and thinking global is important and it starts with students. 

March 20th, 2010 09:55 AM
Author whsaito
Comments 1 Comment