I am taking the bullet train this morning from Tokyo to Kyoto to go speak at the 2008 Japanese TRIZ Symposium. While in Japan, I have also had the chance to meet with several members of the Japanese innovation community. It is interesting to note the differences and similarities in attitude and approach to innovation that can be observed as one touches different geographic regions.
Some things are very consistent. Japan is feeling an economic slowdown after five years of growth. This has companies thinking about many of the same issues as their Western counterparts. Companies globally are coming to the realization that innovation is at the core of their competitive sustainability. But whereas innovation has been only the domain of R&D in looking for new technology and products, some Japanese companies are rethinking their innovation agenda. The possibility to push innovation skills to production engineers as a way to spur a new wave of efficiency gains is gaining attraction to these organizations.
This is an interesting trend, but these companies should be expanding their vision. Innovation touches all aspects of what a company does in delivering value to the most important customers in the value chain. While it is easy to consider the discrete innovation actions as independent event during the product lifecycle, such a viewpoint is self limiting. Product creation, delivery, and service are interconnected elements of a complex corporate ecosystem of value creation. As such, companies should consider how to encourage and leverage the connectedness of these activities.
Another trend that I have seen recently in Europe and the US which has been validated in my discussions with Japanese companies is a shift in thinking about knowledge management and its role in innovation. There is a growing awareness of the fundamental importance of connecting knowledge workers with information. But, traditional models of knowledge management are viewed as being failed systems. While thinking in this area is still lagging globally, more and more companies are beginning to understand that a new metaphor of design intent and role based knowledge enablement is needed to break the barriers between knowledge workers and the information they need to formulate new concepts of innovation.