In 2012 Hiroshi and Fumiko worked as part of the administrative staff of the committee summoned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), Japan. The committee’s intention was to understand how some countries and cities, despite of the financial crisis, are rising and how innovation ecosystem is formed in each territory.
The project covered over ten cities and countries around the world, including star cities like Silicon Valley and Israel. As much as their ecosystems and cases fascinated all of us, there were an unspoken consensus that these were clearly different from the situation in Japan, where most people primarily worked for companies rather than aspiring to become the next big entrepreneur.
By chance, as we started to look into midwest, we came across a fascinating book written by three professors in University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Abbie Griffin and Raymond L. Price, Bruce Vojak. The book was titled “Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovation in Mature Firms.”
As soon as we have read the book we became a big fan. The book was written about Serial Innovators, individuals who, by will, work for mature firms, and delivered innovative products and services for people and organizations. What was astounding was that they did not only succeed once or twice, but for multiple times.
The book was a result of series of interviews conducted by these three professors for more than a decade. The book introduces Tom Osborne, a serial innovator of Procter & Gamble, who created Always Ultra feminine hygiene pad, one of their billion-dollar brands. But as we met the authors we learned there were so much more insights not only about the process, but also about their intrinsic motivations or mental models.
In 2013, two projects started together with Ray and Bruce, two authors of the book. First, was to introduce the Serial Innovators book to the Japanese audience. The book was then translated into Japanese and was published in 2014. Second, was to conduct a comparative studies between Japan and the US, on serial innovators. Between 2013 and 2015, we worked with over 30 innovators, in different industries, such as consumer packaged goods, automobiles, pharmaceutical, and electronics. Innovators included Mitsuaki Oshima of Panasonic, who has invented image stabilizers for camcorders, and Satoshi Ogiso, the one and only individual who has worked for four generations of hybrid EVs known as Toyota Prius.
As we studied and analyzed the characteristics and personalities of Japanese serial innovators, despite of the country or the organizations they work for, serial innovators essentially behaved in the same way to make things happen. Many of them had so many internal and external network and they had projects that they have been thinking or working for years. They constantly learned new things, and sometimes received negative reviews from their immediate bosses as they failed to report their process along the way. Serial innovators also were so persistent that some of the products we know today, such as Prius, was considered the innovator’s ‘own project,’ rather than a company’s project.
In other words, serial innovators existed in both Japan and the US. The problem was that they appeared so few that they seem to have so many redundant obstacles inside the company that hinder them to perform.
Today, the insight from the consortium is utilized in identifying and fostering innovators inside mature firms like Sony. We also designed an incubation program for Hiroshima, based on the request from the Innovation Team in Hiroshima prefectural government. Our program is called Innovators 100, where target is to create an ecosystem of 100 local companies with leaders and innovative employees.
- Bruce A. VojakThe College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Raymond L. PriceThe College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- 2013 - 2014Ajinomoto Co., Inc.
Kokuyo Furniture Co., Ltd.
Toyota Motor Corporation
- 2014 - 2015Ajinomoto Co., Inc.
Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co.,Ltd.
Toyota Motor Corporation