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 in elementary school and started his own company while still in high school and was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today). As one of the world’s leading authorities on cybersecurity.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm. In 2011, he served as the Chief Technology Officer of the National Diet’s (Parliament) Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. Later that year, he was named as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member for World Economic Forum (WEF) and subsequently been named to its Foundation Board. In 2012, Saito was appointed to a council on national strategy and policy that reported directly to the Prime Minister of Japan.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has served as an advisor to Japanese ministries; the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST); the Information Technology Promotion Agency (IPAS); the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, among others. He is currently the Special Advisor to the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry (METI) and the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

He went to medical school at UCLA and Harvard Kennedy School; serves on various boards of Global 2000 companies; frequently appears as a commentator on TV and is the author of seven books in addition to writing several weekly newspaper columns. His management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP and became a best-seller in 2012. In 2016, Saito received the Medal of Honor from the Government of Japan for his work in the field of education.

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