I recently spent 10 days traveling in Japan with my wife a two friends, during our travels I was continually struck with how innovative the Japanese are and with what US companies could learn from this amazing country. This and future columns will explore some examples of innovations I experienced an explore what lessons we all could derive from my experiences.
Ranking Japan on Innovation
Japan is the world’s most innovative country, according to the Economist’s updated New Ranking of the World’s Most Innovative Countries, published in February, 2009. The Economist launched this innovation index in 2007 studying world-wide innovation from 2002-2006. For this study innovation is defined as the application of knowledge in a novel way, primarily for economic benefit. Put another way, innovation represents the space between problems and solutions.
Here are a few of the findings from the 2009 study:
- To rank countries, the Economist Intelligence Unit distinguishes between “innovation output” (performance) and “innovation inputs” (enablers).
- Innovation is beneficial to both national economies and corporate performance, but it is most visible at the microeconomic than macroeconomic levels
- Innovative companies tend to outperform their peers
- Firms connected to high tech clusters outperform their peers
- Smaller countries have an advantage
- Projections for 2009-2013 have been affected by the severe economic downturn and innovation is expected to grow at a slower pace worldwide
- Japan continues to be the world’s most innovative country, followed by Switzerland, Finland, the United States and Sweden
- China and India are both expected to gain ground, but neither are among the top 25 countries in the study
Examples of Innovation in Japan
For this column I’ll concentrate on a few important areas and give a few examples of the innovations that I experienced during my recent travels. In this column I’ll cover Public Transportation.
Transportation starts with Japan’s network of trains, metros and buses. It seems the majority of the country travels on public transportation. The major innovations in my experience are:
- Bullet Trains – Japan’s main island Honshu is covered by a network of high speed trains connecting Tokyo and the island’s major cities. These high speed trains are called Shinkansen and are operated by Japan Railways (JR) and they were launched in 1964, 46 years ago! Today they can reach 300 kilometers per hour. These trains are modern, fun to travel on and make long trips a breeze.
- Tokyo Metro – today the Tokyo metro is one of the most advanced metro systems in the world and it serves the 35 million people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area very efficiently. Signage is in Japanese Kanji and English, maps are easy to follow, it’s breeze to transfer trains and track your progress on the electronic maps in each car.
- Suica Cards – The Suica is a prepaid e-money card for moving around and shopping in the Tokyo area, no need to buy subway tickets at all if you have one. Just touch your Suica to the ticket gate and the fare is automatically deducted from your Suica. It can be used for subways, buses as well as for shopping and is incredibly convenient for tourists to use in the place of cash wherever the Suica mark is displayed.
Next week look for more on Innovation Lessons from Japan, staring with Toto Washlet Toilets.