The state of Innovation in Japan – fundamentals for Innovation


Innovation - is the transformation of knowledge and ideas into commercially successful products. It has been the key factor behind the rise in living standards since the Industrial Revolution. We talk of the knowledge society and knowledge worker as a result.

The driver behind transforming ideas into products is creativity, and the process is one of solving a problem. In this case, it is one of innovation.

Let us look at Japa on how it has dealt with the issue of innovation. The country has a long history of importing ideas from the rest of the world. It has used the 'adapting' and' transforming' tactic; it was mostly an incremental innovator.

Japan improved and tweaked products and processes that had been developed by other countries. This strategy took place in closed networks of organizations, where promotion was seniority-based. There was lifetime employment, internal research, and the norm was to have in-house training.

The system worked for a while; however, it cannot adapt to change like any relatively closed system. The destiny, as Prigogine would say, "is for the organization to fail."

After the 90s, Japan started to invest seriously in research and innovation. It spent 3.2% of GDP on R&D. Japan knew that it needed to shift from catching up with the rest of the world towards developing its products through innovation through creativity.
Despite this goal, its leading organizations like Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic are still struggling.


Japan's Educational System

There are some fundamentals at play. Japanese culture is conservative. Its educational system has been one of rote learning, and its researchers are not the best in the world.

Companies remain bureaucratic and hierarchical and lack the dynamism and agility that is required for innovation to flourish.

The Japanese Prime Minister identified that the schooling system had to shift from rote learning (maintenance of the status quo) to one where the emphasis was on learning to solve problems.

We see a significant and fundamental shift. It recognizes that a healthy reality is an open, dynamic, and complex system. The map to guide any enterprise into the future is not cast in stone. It emerges and gets addressed consistently where the attitude is one of solving problems creatively.

Knowledge is temporary – projects are the new organizational structure – they are temporary knowledge organizations. This term was coined by me (Rui Martins) and Kim Sbarcea in 2003.