I feel that the recognition of Japan being a country of “craftsmanship” is fading considerably even in Japan.
Logic Must Be Surpassed with “It Would Be Amazing if... .is published on Forbes Japan
This may be greatly influenced by the fact that Japan is falling behind in the reform of the industrial structure led by big tech companies (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft) and also as a result of witnessing the global sweeping trend to shift to China even in the conventional manufacturing industry.
Looking at various statistics, it is apparent that the competitiveness of the Japanese manufacturing industry is declining in the world.
A number of factors can be cited but they are commonly thought to be the realization of low-cost manufacturing in emerging countries and an increase in manufacturing that does not involve complicated processes requiring technology owing to the rise of the digital industry.
While the competitiveness of the Japanese manufacturing industry is weakening, China has made a giant stride in this field in the past 20 years. China is putting forth the “Made in China 2025” plan, which aims to move away from low-tech manufacturing to achieve higher-quality manufacturing and has drawn a roadmap, placing this as the most important measure of its state planning. China will probably continue to press ahead with this national commitment to become a big manufacturing player and then a manufacturing giant.
According to the index of the World Bank, China’s manufacturing industry has become No. 1 in the world in terms of added value, in other words, volume, and has come to be called the “world’s factory.” However, I feel that there is still a large gap between China and advanced countries in terms of quality. While low-cost but high-quality Chinese-made products with enhanced functions have recently become available, I still feel their products lack innovative power.
While China is No. 1 in the manufacturing industry, I am inclined to think that they are not yet recognized as a country of “craftsmanship.” This is because the concept of “craftsmanship” is not based only on quantitative indexes such as statistics but is also formed by qualitative impressions. Nevertheless, China will probably continue to focus on digital technology going forward, aim to catch up with the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and climb up the stairs to become a country of “craftsmanship.”
I am certainly not the only one hoping that Japan will also build new value on top of its foundation as a country of “craftsmanship,” which was built by our predecessors, and regain an established position as a country of “craftsmanship.” However, the appeal of Japanese-made products such as household electrical appliances is decreasing and Japanese products are being replaced by products made by Chinese and Korean manufacturers in the European and U.S. markets.
So, what can we do to escape from this situation?
In the world of product development, I believe that the common approach is to carry out various kinds of research such as surveys on markets, customers and competitors, and then match the needs derived from this research with internal seeds (technologies and knowhow possessed by companies).
However, things that can be assembled logically eventually result in the same solution and tend to be faced with the dilemma of being difficult to differentiate from others. It is inevitable, I think, that the more we analyze and build based on logic, the more we all end up going in similar directions.
I always think that attractive “craftsmanship” requires a spirit of adventure to imagine “it would be amazing if I could...,” and the flexibility to change into any shape. It is these elements that often overwhelm logically developed products.
For instance, digital cameras initially did not have a liquid crystal display (LCD) and it was Casio that launched a digital camera with an LCD for the first time in 1995. At the time, it was common to look through a viewfinder to take photos even with digital cameras and, according to a customer survey, it seems that mounting an LCD was not being regarded favorably.
However, Casio made a bold decision to mount the LCD. As a result, the advantage of being able to confirm what was just photographed on the screen was highly acclaimed and this subsequently became the standard for digital cameras.
Although this differs from the product planning process, the history of the development of skateboards also involves the spirit of adventure to imagine “it would be amazing if I could...,” and the flexibility to change into any shape. This is quite an interesting example of unforeseen events occurring in series, which led to great developments.
It seems that skateboarding started in the 1960s, when people started playing with skateboards made from roller skates attached to a board. In the evolution process of this primitive skateboard, it became possible to skate faster, jump higher and moreover, do great tricks such as spinning the board in the air or the skateboarders spinning themselves in the air.
Furthermore, because of the desire to try to do new tricks and to show them to people, special courses for skateboards were set up and hand-made competitions started to be held. Then sponsors started to support skateboarders that can perform a number of great tricks and competitions for professional skateboarders started to be held in various places.
Groups of companies offering brands targeting the younger generations started to become sponsors and provide funds for competitions that attract many young skateboarders and fans. In the video game industry, where I used to work, a game titled with the name of a famous skateboarder was launched and became popular throughout the world.
The history of the skateboard is a chain reaction of “it would be amazing if I could...,” such as it would be amazing if I could skate by attaching a board to roller skates, it would be amazing if I could try to do new tricks, it would be amazing if I could improve my performance to a higher level, it would be amazing if I could participate in competitions, it would be amazing if I could become No. 1 in the world and it would be amazing if I could become famous. It is also a history of flexibility that freely changes shape according to how people play it.
Also, in the businesses we are involved in, especially on the frontline of “craftsmanship,” we are often unable to see our long-range goals. This is quite natural and should not be feared. Just like the world seen by the settlers that cultivated the American continent, it is natural that the views of people on the frontline of each field are unclear.
I also don’t think it is correct for people on the frontline of each field to be swayed by evidence such as survey results because they are more acquainted with the industry than anyone else. Instead, I think it would be better to focus only on whether it is possible to create a chain reaction of “it would be amazing if I could ...” and on whether there is flexibility to change into any shape, which could be seen in the development of skateboard.
Japan is a country that has valued “craftsmanship.” It would be great if earth-shattering products and experiences could be provided with the “it would be amazing if I could...” mindset and the flexibility to change into any shape.
※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN Online posted on January 20, 2021". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.