On Made In Japan

I recently finished reading Made In Japan – Akio Morita and SONY – by Akio Morito with Edwin M. Reingold and Mitsuko Shumomura.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “I have always believed that a trademark is the life of an enterprise and that it must be protected boldly. A trademark and a company name are not just clever gimmicks—they carry responsibility and guarantee the quality of the product. If someone tries to get a free ride on the reputation and i the ability of another who has worked to build up public trust.”

2- “In the beginning, when our track record for success was not established, our competitors would take a very cautious wait-and-see attitude while we marketed and developed a new product. In the early days, we would often have the market to ourselves for a year or more before the other companies would be convinced that the product would be a success. And we made a lot of money, having the market all to ourselves. But as we became more successful and our track record became clearer, the others waited a shorter and shorter time before jumping in. Now we barely get a three-month head start on some products before the others enter the market to compete with us with their own version of the product we innovated. It is flattering in a way, but it is expensive. We have to keep a premium on innovation.”

3- “My point in digressing to tell this story is simple: I do not believe that any amount of market research could have told us that the Sony Walkman sensational hit that would spawn many imitators. And yet this small item has literally changed the music-listening habits of millions of people all around the world.”

4- “It was this kind of innovation that Ibuka had in mind when we wrote a kind of prospectus and philosophical statement for our company in the very beginning: “If it were possible to establish conditions where persons could become united with a firm spirit of teamwork and exercise to their hearts’ desire their technological capacity,” he wrote, “then such an organization could bring untold pleasure and untold benefits.” He was thinking about industrial creativity, something that is done with teamwork to create new and worthwhile products. Machines and computers cannot be creative in themselves, because creativity requires something more than the processing of existing information. It requires human thought, spontaneous intuition, and a lot of courage, and we had plenty of that in our early days and still do.”

5- “My view was that you must first learn the market.. learn how to sell to it, and build up your corporate confidence before you commit yourself. And when you have confidence, you should commit yourself wholeheartedly.”

6- “…no matter how good or successful you are or how clever or crafty, your business and its future are in the hands of the people you hire. To put it a bit more dramatically, the fate of your business is actually in the hands of the youngest recruit on the staff.”

7- “When most Japanese companies talk about cooperation or consensus, it usually means the elimination of individuality. At our company we are challenged to bring our ideas out into the open. If they clash with others, so much the better, because out of it may come something good at a higher level. Many Japanese companies like to use the words cooperation and consensus because they dislike individualistic employees. When I am asked, and sometimes when I am not, I say that a manager who talks too much about cooperation is one who is saying he doesn’t have the ability to utilize excellent individuals and their ideas and put their ideas in harmony. If my company is successful, it is largely because our managers do have that ability.”

8- “Management officers, knowing that the company’s ordinary business is being done by energetic and enthusiastic younger employees, can devote their energy and effort to planning the future of the company. With is in mind, we think it is unwise and unnecessary to define individual responsibility too clearly, because everyone is taught to act like a family member ready to do what is necessary. If something goes wrong it is considered bad taste for management to inquire who made the mistake. That may seem dangerous, if not silly, but it makes sense to us.”

9- “I cannot understand why there is anything good in laying off people. If management takes the risk and responsibility of hiring personnel, then it is management’s ongoing responsibility to keep them employed. The employee does not have the prime responsibility in this decision, so when a recession comes. why should the employee have to suffer for the management decision to hire him? Therefore, in times of boom we are very careful about increasing our personnel. Once we have hired people, we try to make them understand our concept of a fate-sharing body and how if a recession comes the company is willing to sacrifice profit to keep them in the company.”

10- “What you are showing to your employees is not that you are an artist who performs by himself on the high wire, but you are showing them how you are attempting to attract a large number of people to follow you willingly and with enthusiasm to contribute to the success of the company. If you can do that, the bottom line will take  care of itself.”

11- “It may sound curious, but I learned that an enemy of this innovation could be your own sales organization if it has too much power, because very often these organizations discourage innovation. When you make innovative new products, you must re-educate the sales force about them so the salesmen can educate and sell the public. This is expensive; it means investing sufficient money in R&D and new facilities and advertising and promotion. And it also means making some popular and profitable items obsolete, often the items you can make the most profit on because your development costs are paid for and these products have become easy for your salesmen to sell.”

12- “The primary function of management is decision-making and that means professional knowledge of technology and the ability to foresee the future direction or trends of technology. I believe a manager must have a wide range of general knowledge covering his own business field. It also helps to have a special sense, generated by knowledge and experience—a feel for the business that goes beyond the facts and figures—and this intuitiveness is a gift only human beings can have.”

13- “Next to lawyers, I think these people are the most overused and misused businessmen on the scene in the United States and Japan. I use consultants selectively and have found the best ones can do valuable information gathering and market analysis. But their use can be brought to ridiculous extremes, and it has been.”

14- “I think one of the main advantages of the Japanese system of management over the American or the Western system in general is this sense of corporate philosophy. Even if a new executive takes over he cannot change that. In Japan the long-range planning system and the junior management proposal system guarantee that the relationship between top management and junior management remains very close and that over the years they can formulate a specific program of action that the years they can formulate a specific program of action that will maintain the philosophy of the company. It also may explain why in the initial stages progress is very slow in a Japanese company. But once the company communicates its philosophy to all employees, the company has great strength and flexibility.”

15- “My point is that it is unwise merely to do something different and then rest on your laurels. You have to do something to make a business out of a new development, and that requires that you keep updating the product and staying ahead of the market.”

16- “My prediction is that we can enjoy our lives with less energy, less of the old materials, fewer resources, more recycling, and have more of the essentials for a happy and productive life than ever. Some people in the world, especially the Americans, will have  to learn something of the meaning and spirit of mottainai and conserve more. Step by step, year by year, we must all learn how to be more skillful and efficient in using our resources economically. We must recycle more. As to the expanding populations, that will be a challenge to everyone, for they will have to be fed. clothed, and educated. But as the standard of living of a people increases, the population tends to level off, people live a different way, acquire different tastes and preferences, and develop their own technologies for survival.”

17- “I believe there is a bright future ahead for mankind, and that future holds exciting technological advances that will enrich the lives of everybody on the planet. Only by expanding world trade and stimulating more production can we take advantage of the possibilities that lie before us. We in the free world can do great things. We proved it in Japan by changing the image of the words “Made in Japan” from something shoddy to something fine. But for a single nation or a few nations to have accomplished this is not enough. My vision of the future is of an exciting world of superior goods and services, where every nation’s stamp of origin is a symbol of quality, and where all are competing for the consumers’ hard-earned money at fair prices that reflect appropriate rates of exchange. I believe such a world is within our grasp. The challenge is great; success depends only on the strength of our will.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Made In Japan

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