Mark Rockwell wrote:
"Japanese firms have always been innovative.
Anecdotal evidence is suspect, but so is hazy research. You do not define what "innovative capacity" or "innovation" is or how the conclusions were reached. Yo usay the number of start ups are increasing, yet don't say what those start ups do. Do they use technology or ideas unique to Japan, or do they base their businesses on technology that originated elsewhere decades ago?...
Do we have a case of the Tortise and the Hare? It seems to me that you view innovation as only major revolutionary discoveries discoveries that leap ahead (the Hare). In my view (and that of many researchers of the topic) innovation includes much more than that. The laborious plodding, refined thinking, continuous improvement and clever incremental change that improve the quality of life (the tortoise) is innovative also. After all Edison is quoted as saying "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!"
Porter and Stern have not done hazy research. They studied innovation and the methodology of their metric "National Innovative Capacity" is described in detail in their publications so I won't bother to go into it here, but it is very well accepted research in the business community.
Even companies that produce mundane products like Soy Sauce can be innovative. For example, Kikomen's business practices in selling soy sauce were so innovative, Harvard business school did a case study of them.
Mark Rockwell wrote:
Name a technology in which the Japanese now excel and trace the technology to its origins. The "original thinking" that produced the first in cell phone, the television, the automobile, the computer and software-- orginated elsewhere. The fabulous refinement of those in quality and features and marketing was perfected in Japan....
Where does one go to trace the origin of a technology? Even something as relatively simple as a cotton stripper has a convoluted and difficult to assess historical lineage. Is the origin of the cell phone a radio, a telephone, a transistor, the polymer in the case, the antenna network, the wire forming process? Every invention is some incremental improvement on work done by someone else. (Unless you believe Al Gore when he said he invented the Internet. )
Additionally, in the global economy it is hard to identify anything as being of one country, however, I can think of several major innovations that came from primarily Japan. Here are just a few.
Engineering Design innovations -Earth quake tolerant facility design Many innovations in this area including Damage Controlled Structures" or "Damage Tolerant Structures", or Smart structures materials that change their characteristics in response to load.
Product Design innovations - Blue LEDs a result of significant basic private research
Product Development innovations Honda's product introduction process
Process innovations Just In Time manufacturing (Toyota)
Medical Amino acid production for bioengineering
Cultural - Karaoke :)
Mark Rockwell wrote:
"Funny you mention Kimura as an innovator. He is. However, one only has to look to the initially cold reception he got in Japan for his designs and question why his biggest following is arguably abroad...
Regarding Kimura's "cold reception" I wonder about the research behind this statement. What is the source of the data and how was it measured? When I look at Japanese bonsai magazines, he is featured prominently in many of them going back many years. Even so, it is HUMAN nature, not just Japanese nature, to view innovators with suspicion and as possible threats to the status quo. The Wright brothers? first flight was almost suppressed. Numerous other inventors were trying to build a flying machine with little success. At the same time, mainstream science was sneering at all these obviously ignorant flying machine inventors. Claims of success were met with accusations of hoax. Charles Darwin?s theory of evolution was met with ridicule (even till today by some). Many other examples exist in the West. Resistance to change is not solely a Japanese trait.
Stereotypical claims about cultures are just that - you may find some anedotal evidence to support any characterization you may care to make, but is it real or accurate?