Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan


“(CB: And that new product development function, where is that located in Japan? Who takes on that role?)

Advertising agencies don’t take on that role here, it’s usually companies. This is one of the issues that we find. A lot of Japanese companies do innovate but they do it incrementally. For example they will take a product and next week it will be in green paper and the week after that it might be in washi (Japanese-style paper)..the week after that they might change the design. It’s just incremental. They will never think something like ‘oh let’s put this in a see-through plastic container…or let’s not put it in a container at all let’s hand it over to consumers and get them to take it home in their own furoshiki to make it more eco…’ things that might be a big jump. Innovation here is incremental as opposed to reinventing the wheel. And the other thing is that in Japan it is almost never done with consumer insight. It’s almost like a bunch of scientists in an office in their white coats who walk around saying “ooh must come up with an idea, here’s a wacky idea, let’s see if it resonates”.
Consumers will never tell you what they want so never ask them directly but what you can do is study them, talk to them, and see what their issues are. And then using those insights you can then go away and come up with some real ideas. I think that that is the big problem here, they don’t do that. (CB: Do you have any idea why it is this way?). No I don’t, not really…..Companies here like to innovate because it is such an innovative market. They have to innovate incrementally because it’s so competitive that you need to have a product on the shelf in two weeks. It’s all about how you produce, not picking a product that will resonate and sit on the shelf for not just one year but perhaps even five years.”