By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
If it seems that we're under a constant barrage by the Western Media Myth (WMM) that (a) Japan is "failing" and that (b) this "failure" of Japan's is primarily due to Japan's "talent problem", it's because we are.
We're also told through this WMM that Japan's supposed "lack of talent" has further manifested itself in such as way as to be responsible for Japan's supposed "lack of creativity" and "lack of innovation", thus, contributing to again, the so-called "Lost Decade".
However, just when the WMM would have us give up all hope that Japan can saved, the WMM preaches that these "unique problems" that Japan faces can simply and quickly be solved by (a) increasing the number of English-speaking Japanese and (b) internationalizing the apparently "backwards" Japanese-only speaking speakers and/or (c) increasing the number of immigrants Japan accepts. Apparently, the WMM proponents believe that even a US-Open Border policy would "help" the Japanese economy if not "save" it.
To support such silly myths, memes and the previously proposed "solutions", the Western Media often holds up statistics showing Japan's lack of internationalized workers (however you define this), Japan's relatively low TOEIC and TOEFL scores compared to other Asian countries as well as the dearth of Japanese college students now studying overseas compared to the figures thrown up by countries such as India and China (for the record, the Japanese figures are low even when comparing this on a per capita basis, but this begs the question -- so what?).
As I have argued for over a decade now, these claims and even statistical comparisons by the Western Media are not only useless but downright dangerous to those that want to fully understand Japan's current situation as they ignore the real root causes of Japan's underperformance.
And note that I say "underperformance" here and not failure. As the third largest economy in the world (behind China that has ten times the population along with zero controls on economic externalities), it's pretty silly to continue to paint Japan as an economic basket case or the "sick man of Asia".
The key to all of this is to understand that Japan lacks leadership. That is what is hampering Japan.
Japan doesn't lack creativity, Japan doesn't lack innovation, Japan doesn't lack talent and Japan doesn't lack English-speakers, although Japan could improve in all of these areas.
The Western Media's arguments or framing of these issues, especially in terms of Japan's supposed lack of "English-speaking" talent becomes even sillier when we consider that it ignores what I have deemed the "tip of the spear" or "tip of the sword" strategy.
As I have stated many time before, business is warfare, the only difference being that in business there is no Geneva Convention and prisoners aren't routinely taken.
In a war, it is considered completely unwise to judge the strength of an army solely by the total number of troops. One must judge an army by its effectiveness in killing and maiming people as well as smashing, burning and breaking things. One would also be well advised to measure an army's effectiveness in terms of its ability to project power. Again, the number of troops is mostly irrelevant.
This becomes even clearer when we analyze a war dominated by air power,
In such a case you don't measure a military's effectiveness by the number of pilots deployed in theater or even the total trained (and active) pilots but rather you measure a military's effectiveness (related to these air campaigns) by the efficacy of the pilots that are deployed and the results which they attain.
For instance, even on a conventional basis, one pilot and perhaps one navigator can wreak enormous havoc on an enemy force, and yet, this one pilot and navigator are backed up by thousands of others ranging from ground crews that handle maintenance, fueling and ordnance. Air traffic controllers to mid-air refuelers (who in turn are supported by their own ground crews) and this ripples through the entire supply chain from the men and women who cut the paychecks, the cooks, the water purification teams, the truckers, the doctors and dentists to the nurses and so on.
Thousands and thousands of non-combatants are involved to support a relatively small group of pilots and this doesn't even include all of the time and effort that went into designing and producing each plane and each weapons systems, all to support one pilot and perhaps one navigator.
And yet it works because that plane and that pilot are, indeed, the tip of the spear.
You can see this as well in a US Navy Carrier Task Force when you consider how many personnel are on one aircraft carrier -- mutiple thousands. And this one carrier in turn supports a relatively small group of pilots. But it goes far beyond this, because that one aircraft carrier is in turn supported by a group of other ships - submarines, cruisers, destroyers and so on.
All of these assets and personnel are supporting this one aircraft carrier which in turn supports her air crews who are, by definition, the tip of the spear.
Unsurprisingly, businesses and economies work in the same way. This should be common sense and yet evidently the Western Media still doesn't get this nor does most of the Silicon Valley "Cheerleader Press".
In concrete terms, what does this mean for Japan?
Well, this means that in Japan not every person or employee needs to speak English or be internationalized. It's a silly notion to assume that they do. Moreover, even if each Japanese worker did have these skills there is no guarantee that the Japanese economy would stronger since there is a huge opportunity cost to skill-up in these areas which could, in fact, dampen Japanese creativity, innovation and productivity.
In any event, today I was back on site at a client (a Japanese domestic firm), running interviews for 2015 college graduates. I had eleven Japanese and several foreign student candidates lined up for today. This was in addition to the 15 Japanese candidates I had interviewed for the same client the week before.
And once again, I am and have been extremely impressed with the quality of all candidates, both Japanese and foreign candidates.
This simply adds more empirical evidence to my long made argument that Japan doesn't suffer from a lack of talent, creativity or innovation.
Japan suffers not just from a lack of but a dearth of aggressive, quality leadership which is able to effectively and profitably deploy and monetize the outstanding domestic and international talent that is already onboard or can be readily acquired.
To counter balance this lack of leadership and the resultant underperforming or ossified firms it produces, Japan must create and maintain a very healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem.
An ecosystem that can continually challenge, engage, kill and compost underperforming incumbent Japanese corporations, especially ossified incumbents, wherever they may be found.
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