Hachiko made it as far as Hollywood: in the movie with Richard Gere ("Hachi: A Dog´s Tale") the life of the faithful Japanese Akita dog became famous all over the world. He had waited every evening at the station for his master, even long after his death. In Japan this dog is regarded as a symbol of loyalty and in his honor a monument was erected at the Shibuya railway station in Tokyo. This faithful dog is just one example of the many values that shape culture in Japan. These include: to grant space to one another. Let people finish respectfully what they want to say. Listening. Avoiding risks. Striving for perfection. During my last visit to Japan, the people in this country once again fascinated me. I had left my cell phone in the taxi. It was not before hours later that I noticed. My Japanese companion called the taxi company completely unexcited. We still had time for a beer. Then the taxi driver was at our restaurant. With my cell phone. For my companion this seemed to be the most normal thing in the world. Strong values are definitely anchored in Japanese culture.
No new territory w/o risks
In Germany, business and training magazines currently outdo each other in their headlines with transformation buzzwords: agility, mindfulness, digitization, and of course: VUCA! Unfortunately I don't speak Japanese and therefore I don't know what's in the newspapers right there. In my discussions with local top managers such transformation buzzwords did not even show up once. Are the Japanese missing out on the ongoing change? Will the desire for process perfection be a stumbling block for Japanese companies on their way to a digital society? While in China you can already pay beggars with your mobile phone, in Japan I had to change cash to buy bus tickets. Digitization, where are you? Those of you who already do business with Japanese companies may know how hard it can be to make decisions there with a little risk. Will companies in the future be doomed by their own "classic" value systems, which focus on things like quality and risk avoidance? No new territory without risk. Right?
Sustainable ways, or knights of fortune
Another conversation with a local manager showed me a interesting facet: under the impressions of the disaster of Fukoshima, his company had built a new plant and set out to reduce electricity consumption by 90%. How daring to formulate such a challenging goal! The goal was achieved by means of a completely new energy concept and amazing architectural finesse. What a change! So it does work after all? Different mentalities deal differently with the topic “change”. While some people are more like knights of fortune in quick implementation and seeking profits, others are looking for more sustainable ways. I don't want to judge at this point, but rather open up a new perspective on the subject of innovation: How are innovations created?
Problems, knowledge, and capital
One of the greatest innovations in human history was certainly the invention of printing. The starting point was a problem: people had a need for knowledge, and the monks were no longer able to meet that need by writing books. Printing was begun with wooden matrices. But they were worn out very quickly and became unusable. This was where Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz came in. He looked at the problem with his eyes. And these were the eyes of a goldsmith who knew how to work metal. The idea of reusable metal letters was born. This idea was implemented from 1450 and revolutionized the spread of knowledge. The great challenge for Gutenberg was to provide the necessary capital. Innovations arise where problems, knowledge and capital come together. Is that important?
Old world and new technologies
Yes, it is! Instead of always carrying new buzzwords into the world, we should take a step back from time to time with a little serenity and ask ourselves: which problems do we actually solve with what is invented here? And: what knowledge do we need for that? Our markets will not work if everyone develops only apps and data networks. We need more. The exciting part of the ongoing change is to recognize which knowledge from the supposedly old world we have to combine with new technologies in order to create new knowledge. This one needs then to be applied. In many areas we will even have to deepen our existing knowledge and better understand how cause-effect relationships work in old products or technologies. Only in this way can the opportunities offered by the new technologies be used in a truly meaningful way.
Those who have strong values for orientation, those who already know a great deal because they have penetrated facts and technologies and strived for perfection, those have more than good chances of winning the competition for new knowledge. The prerequisite is, however, the willingness to search for new ways, experiment and take risks.