Are Japanese Companies Afraid of Innovation?

afraid of innovationHow do you define innovation? I define innovation as creating and capturing new value as the Global Innovation Management Institute does. 

We asked 930 companies in Japan the exact same question. Surprisingly, 0 companies had defined innovation for their company! Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, but we’ve been asking if shows that they might not have fully defined a strong innovation strategy.

In Japan, sometimes innovation is seen simply as a marketing tactic. It is common that any Japanese corporations have their own corporate venture capital arm to fund the innovations of other companies, which they might find safer since it leaves them less vulnerable. The latest trend is establishing an “Innovation Promotion Department.” The more I talked to the people who are involved in innovation promotion, the more I realized that they are actually afraid of innovation and do very little to actually promote the practice of it.

Why are they afraid? They are afraid of making mistakes just like every other department. Japan is a country where they demand perfection even from fresh graduates. My experience is that these executives in the “Innovation Promotion Department” are afraid of letting other employees know what they do  in the “Innovation Promotion Dept” so that if they ever make an error, no one will know it. And, as we all know, the ability to celebrate failure is one of the key components of creating a culture of innovation.

I also noted that the main responsibility of the members of these dedicated departments is to attend as many as innovation related workshops, seminars and public events and let the world know that their company was there. Which works as a great PR strategy, but it doesn’t actually help keep ideas percolating to the top.

When I talk to these top executives in the “Innovation Promotion Department” who are responsible for their corporate innovation program, they loved the idea of having a system to manage their innovation lifecycle, and they acknowledged the importance of innovation portfolio management. However, they started to get nervous when we started talking about having every employee use an idea management platform and managers actually being able to see stats like number of collected ideas, ROI etc. So what is it that they’re really afraid of? Transparency. But it’s that same transparency that allows for powerful connection and collaboration.

This is why I firmly believe our job at IdeaScale, especially in Japan is more than just offering a service; we need to spend lot of time educating top level managers about the importance of adopting innovation as a strategy. How to improve engagement. Change the mindset from Kaizen centric to Innovation. Most importantly make them feel comfortable about making mistakes, and continuing to attempt innovation.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Isuru Subasinghe, Senior Director of Innovation Sales APAC at IdeaScale


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