Initial proposal to national strategy commission (Part 1 of 3)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was named to be part of the national strategy commission for the Prime Minister of Japan. Since then, I have received numerous comments via the “crowd sourcing” SNS method I proposed. The comments, both positive and negative, on what Japan needs and what should be done continue to this day. Through this process and after discussions and working with the other commission members, I made the following proposal (translated from Japanese but otherwise unedited) to the commission as part of the initial feedback process.

Japan’s most pressing issue is its aging and shrinking population. Coupled with a negative trade balance, growing deficit, strong yen, and the poor performance of Japanese companies – both domestically and overseas – Japan may soon lose its position as the third largest economy in the world. These interconnected issues must be addressed immediately, and fundamental systemic faults within the government, corporations, industry, and education must be changed. Innovation, diversity, real risk management, and teamwork must be fostered at all these levels. By doing so, my belief is that Japan will be able to facilitate its transition into a vibrant knowledge-based economy by 2050.

Systemic Faults and the Root of the Problem
The government has of course undertaken efforts to address some of these issues. Nevertheless, none of these strategies have been very successful at improving Japan in the past two decades. While some strategies were supposedly implemented, the majority of them failed to understand the true “essence”of the problem and procured zero results, or made matters even worse.

Thus, we ought to focus now on “going back to basics.” We must work to re-create a resilient system that addresses to think in absolutes, but to develop the flexibility of thinking in shades of gray and making room for compromises. It is about taking measured, but decisive risks; it is about being able to respond to and handle the unexpected. Japan is extremely poor at this as it remains constricted by its adherence towards absolutes and bureaucratic guidelines.

Before strategies that target specific industries and sectors are developed, an environment that will support the competent risk takers, effective problem solvers, and reliable leaders needs to be established to successfully address the following symptomatic issues.

Next part (2 of 3) is here. Your comments are always welcome.

William Saito
Special Advisor at Cabinet Office (Govt. of Japan)
Named by Nikkei as one of the “100 Most Influential People for Japan,” Saito began software programming at an early age and started his own company in high school. By the time he was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today), he was recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on encryption, biometric authentication and cyber security.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm and consultancy that identifies innovative technologies, develops global talent and helps entrepreneurs become successful. In 2013, Saito was appointed a Special Advisor to the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

Similarly, in 2012 he served as a council member on national strategy for the Cabinet-level National Policy Unit, and prior to that, was named as the Chief Technology Officer for the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). He is a Foundation Board Member at the World Economic Forum (WEF), and has been named by the WEF as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has also served as an advisor to METI, MIC, MEXT, MLIT, AIST, IPA and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), among others.

He teaches at multiple universities, serves on several corporate boards, appears as a commentator on national TV and is the author of numerous publications in addition to writing a weekly column for a prominent Japanese business newspaper. His best-selling management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP in 2012, his follow-on book, Is Your Thinking up to Global Standards?, was published by Daiwa Shobo in late 2013 and his autobiography, An Unprogrammed Life: Adventures of an Incurable Entrepreneur, was published in 2011 by John Wiley & Sons.

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