Designing the Future: Japan’s Tech Revolution – A Customer-Driven Corporate Perspective

“It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” Networking is important in almost all aspects of life, not just when you’re job hunting.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister told me about a U.S.-Japan Innovators Project Symposium event at the Japan Society in New York. You can read about my thoughts on the event from the link above, but on this blog, I want to concentrate on “going to grad school in Japan”, and one of the most important factor is networking. The event turned out to be very enjoyable, and most importantly, I got to meet the lovely Fumiko-san at Japan Society. The next week, I sent an email to her telling her that I’m looking for info on going to grad school in Japan, and she helped me by forwarding my email to one of her contacts who went to the University of Tokyo from France. She also invited me to come back to their “2-DAY SYMPOSIUM Designing the Future: Japan’s Tech Revolution” event.

I decided to go to Friday’s Corporate Luncheon – Designing the Future: A Customer-Driven Corporate Perspective, unfortunately, it would seem that big companies such as Toyota and Panasonic are just not as “customer-driven” as I would like to see. Their speeches were all about their design ideology. I would say they are more “traditionally customer focused” than “customer driven”.

The event started with moderator Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School giving a short intro. Karim is an assistant professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at the Harvard Business School. He specializes in the management of technological innovation and product development. He spoke of the blurring of the line between consumer and producers and gave youtube.com as an example in which a company shifted the production of “products” to the hands of the consumers. As a result, companies need to re-think how to adjust to the changing market where users are now active producers.

The rest of the speeches from Naoaki Nunogaki of Toyota, Naomi Hirose of Tokyo Electric Company and Toyoyuki Uematsu of Panasonic were, like I said, heavily self-centered on their company’s design ideology and had very little to do with being “customer-driven”. The meat came at the end during the Q&A session. Some of the key points that were raised during the Q&A were:

  • A major part of customer driven design is “understanding you customer”, gathering “customer feedback”.
  • “Extreme Users” now appear online to share user information that are not released by the corporations. These users collaborate to share knowledge in order to achieve their goals. e.g. to save money by sharing spending details.
  • From Mr. Uematsu: “It’s important for designers to protect their intellectual property”. (This is a major concern for any designers.)
  • From Mr. Nunogaki: “Customers cannot foresee the future needs for themselves.”
  • Users cannot be Designers. A designer must be a participant of the society, and be inspired and possess that special talent to design “what’s next”.

Afterwards, we were treated to a free lunch. I chatted with an industrial designer and then I met Ray Hatoyama, fellow student of Karim Lakhani at Harvard Business School and Vice President of elephant-design, US Operations. elephant-design and 空想生活 cuusoo.com are truly inspirational companies with a revolutionary idea made into a business. I learned that the founder – Mr. Kohei Nishiyama, was having a speech at the Panel Discussions the next day, so I decided to come back again to learn more about his companies. I’ll write about that in the next post.

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Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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