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Secret of Successful Companies amidst COVID-19 Crisis — “Edo-style Sushi” Has a Hint

The COVID-19 pandemic has massively changed the world and many people are going through difficult circumstances.

"Secret of Successful Companies amidst COVID-19 Crisis" is published on Forbes Japan

On the other hand, there are also businesses that are achieving unprecedented growth.

However, even companies that are performing well now did not envision what was going to occur. It is a well-known story that Bill Gates had predicted the fear of a pandemic from long before but there were probably only a few people who took it seriously.

So, what kind of secret lies behind the success of companies that are performing strongly now? Some people may say “it’s incidental” while some may say “they were just lucky.” However, I think that companies that are successful now are those that have a vision of ideal lifestyles and working styles for people and have a track record of “anticipating” consumers and presenting solutions.

Two “Anticipatory” Experiences in Game Console Development

Steve Jobs once made a speech during his lifetime that even if companies develop products by asking consumers what they want, they will be wanting something newer by the time the products are completed.

Based on my past experience, I agree with many things pointed out by Steve Jobs. I also believe that while listening humbly to the voices of consumers, it is meaningful to “anticipate” and provide new value.

In my case, as I was in the video game industry for many years, I have been aiming to deliver unprecedented experiences with value to users.

I have worked on the development of video game consoles that can provide new value. Some of the projects I have worked on include offering an interactive playing style by reinforcing the network function in line with the advancement of the online environment and expanding the entertainment feature through broadened software development by benefiting from technological innovation and substantially increasing the memory of video game consoles.

In the process of producing video game consoles, we prepared by “anticipating” in two ways. The first, as Steve Jobs said, was the anticipation of consumer needs. I worked on projects by always thinking in an anticipatory way so as to provide unprecedented video game experiences.

The second way was to be prepared by anticipating requests from superiors and colleagues. If we can provide something immediately when it is requested, it will accelerate the progress of the project. Also, from the viewpoint of those making the request, they will be able to confirm that their subordinates and colleagues were thinking the same thing. This will also support the decision to put the product out into the market.

However, these two types of “anticipation” are completely the same in terms of foreseeing and acting upon foresight—to “anticipate” by grasping and analyzing information from a wide range of angles including the social environment, the latest technology, the provision status of infrastructure, the maturity of consumer literacy and the business status of companies. At first, there is a lot of waste and it takes a lot of effort, but by repeating this process of thinking, product development will become sharper and more efficient.

Three Essentials that Improve Vision to See the Future

While “vision” refers to the act or power of seeing, “visionary” means to have foresight. This can also mean “to have good eyesight” for seeing the future and future changes, which cannot be seen by anyone else, before anyone else.

How can we acquire this vision? From my experience, I think that there are three essentials—to think objectively, to have a medium- to long-term perspective and to always have doubts.

To think objectively means to accept things openly and diversely. It is difficult for us to break free from subjective views and some people say that this is unavoidable. In any case, I think it is important to observe things by trying not to be hampered by existing rules and concepts as much as possible when trying to see the future.

It is also important to have a medium- to long-term perspective. I think many people have a lot of work to do in relatively short cycles. There are times when I myself get lost in short-cycle work but I try to maintain a medium- to long-term perspective consciously.

As short-cycle work is the source of our daily revenue, there is no doubt that it is very important. Nevertheless, if we focus only on this work, our “vision” for the future will be diminished. This is because, as our operations will be centered on responding reflectively to tasks at hand, we will be distracted from improving our “vision” to see through the world in the medium to long term.

To always have doubts is also an important factor. It is often said that a lazy person will “become a good software engineer” because, as they are too lazy to carry out small tasks and repetitive work, they are motivated to automate these tasks or control them with computers.

However, if we do not hold doubts about the work we are doing in the first place, we will not be able to set an agenda of what the problem is and what kind of value we should create. Therefore, we will not be able to acquire the “vision” to “anticipate.” 

Fundamentals of Work Learned from Edo-style Sushi

I’ve heard somewhere that work is “to serve things” (which is based on the two kanji (Chinese characters) for work.) This states that work is to serve “things” rather than “people.” According to this, the value of work is determined by how we deal with “things.”

If we go to an Edo-style sushi restaurant, various efforts are made in advance to make seasonal fish taste better, such as by pickling with vinegar, marinating with soy sauce, boiling or cooking. Sushi restaurants confront “things,” which is sushi in this case, and make efforts so that they can promptly serve it in its best condition when orders are received from customers.

Also, they do not just serve what they have prepared as is but make subtle adjustments by sensing the look and mood of customers. Though there may be more cases of handling diverse and irregular “things” at companies, the forethought of Edo-style sushi restaurants is filled with the fundamentals of “work,” which can serve as a useful reference to us.

A while ago, there were many Japanese companies that were ranked high in the global ranking of corporate value. However, they have all vanished in the past 30 years. As for U.S. companies, companies that did not exist 30 years ago now form the top group in corporate value.

Why is this? There are probably various factors involved but I think the lack of “anticipation” is a major factor. It is conceivable that even though many Japanese companies have been emphasizing providing value to their customers and made it their top strategy to meet customer needs, they keep providing products and services that are not demanded by their customers and as a result, they are no longer chosen by their customers.

I think that we, Japanese business people, need to face “things” once again and foster a corporate culture that approves of “anticipating” things by bearing risks and costs.

※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN Online posted on March 16, 2021". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.

Masayuki Chatani

Partner, CEO of KPMG Ignition Tokyo Inc.

KPMG in Japan

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