Japanese Innovation: The machine that changed the world

A little while ago I read a book called The Machine That Changed the World, written in 1990 as a summary of a 5 year $5m MIT research project into the global automobile market. I discovered it while looking for the best description of the most sophisticated, long-term-successful manufacturing organisation & method (of complex technology) the world has ever produced, and I am tempted to believe that this book describes it. In fact I was so inspired I ended up writing my own notes and sharing them with some friends who are experts in manufacturing in order to understand what has happened since 1990. These additional insights are added at the bottom of the notes below. The “machine" in question is, in a word: “Toyota”, and it describes the emergence of their “lean manufacturing” … [Read more...]

The Japanese advertising industry in a nutshell

In this article I try to unravel one of the marketing industry’s most enduring mysteries: why Japanese ad agencies have succeeded in holding on to such a dominant position in the Japanese market, despite all the efforts of the major global agency networks. I believe the answer lies in a fundamental difference between Japanese and western audiences and the models the agencies use to approach them. (A new follow up to this post can be read here) The western agencies' strategy paradigm I entered the advertising industry off the back of 4 years studying physics at Oxford University, so I was more than a little predisposed to reductionist theories. I was therefor relieved to find a rational framework for solving communication problems, loosely referred to as  the ‘account planning … [Read more...]

What the 2020 Olympics means for Japan

I wrote up this article to be published in a marketing journal, and after a lot of editing it was whittled down into something quite different, but much more suited to a marketing journal! I have included the edited down version at the end for comparison! What the 2020 Olympics means for Japan The 1964 Tokyo Olympics put Japan on the map internationally, gave the country the self confidence to become a global economic and cultural force, kickstarting 3 decades of phenomenal growth. By the time 2020 comes around, 56 years will have passed by and Japan will be more or less 3 decades past its economic peak. Where can Japan get to in the next 7 years and what does this mean for businesses and brand in Japan? Much of the international reaction to Tokyo being named as host city for the … [Read more...]

Renault-Nissan Alliance is the pathfinder corporate hybrid and can overtake Toyota

I predict that by 2020 the Renault-Nissan Alliance will have replaced Toyota as the #1 car maker. Already 8.1m units annually, or 1 in 10 cars sold globally come from the group, which was established in 1999 through an unprecedented cross-shareholding agreement, that left both sides of the alliance incentivised to help the other succeed, without the respective corporate and brand identities being consumed by the other. A key factor in the success of the group over the last decade has been the creation of successful hybrids of the two company's strengths, where strengths are shared and weaknesses mitigated both ways. For instance, operationally the "Nissan Production Way" was adopted by Renault's manufacturing facilities, leading to productivity gains of 15% on the French manufacturer's … [Read more...]

Hybrids rule in Japan, and are taking over the world

The words hybrid and hybridisation first became used commonly in 19th century in the context of rearing domesticated animals and plants. A mule for instance is a cross between a horse and a donkey. Rose gardeners created hybrid roses to achieve original colour combinations. These days hybrid technologies are equally if not more common. Among these hybrid cars are the most famous, a technology popularised largely due to the efforts of the Japanese car industry, not least the little known parts supplier Aisin Seiki Co. which invented the Hybrid Synergy Drive that made the Prius an international hit. Hybrid cars represent the classic hybrid concept: take two complementary species or systems, combine them to create a new species or solution that comprise the advantages of both … [Read more...]