Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Not Invented Here" - the syndrome slowing Japan

Japan has long since shed its image of the country that covertly "borrows" technology, marginally advancing the concept, then selling it back to the inventor. Let's face it, the Honda Cub, with over 60 million sold, showed the world how to mass produce a method of transport that started on a cold morning and didn't leave an oil slick in it's wake. But Honda didn't invent the motorbike, nor Sony the radio, nor Toyota the car. However they did make them a lot better and continued the crucial process of innovation.

Life is a pendulum and over the last two decades Japan has moved from one end of the swing to the other. The approach has migrated from one of key-step improvement to a continuous desire to reinvent the wheel. Is there really any need for Mitsubishi to develop a brand new medium haul jet, Japan's first since, well, Japan's first. The last plane Mitsubishi built was the Zero Fighter. Excellent aircraft, not that great for passengers though. And they seem to have forgotten Embraer and Bombardier have pretty good products out there already. Honda has just flown its first business jet despite there being a myriad available on the global market, though as they point out, it can carry four executives as well their vital golf clubs. Wheels reinvented?

It has to be asked if Japan prefers zero internal innovation to gradual development of an external idea. No longer improvement, now a dead stop. In the 1960's, 70's and 80's Japan was a hotbed of invention. Western countries were swamped with everything from children's toys to mobile computers that took an idea and built on it. But the question arises, when was the last time Japan created and exported something that was a genuine step forward? My money is on the blue laser and Nintendo Wii a decade ago. And that's a long, slow swing of Faucalt's pendulum. 

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