This is the second column from a recent trip to Japan that focuses on what businesses in the US and elsewhere can learn about innovation from Japan. If you’d like some music as you ponder my thoughts, check out this YouTube video of Tom Wait’s classic tune Big in Japan, somehow it seems appropriate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RwjpG4Xh60
Last week I discussed the finding from a recent Economist study that ranked Japan as the world’s most innovative country based on the sheer volume of patents and new products and the amount of support or “enablers” available there. When you travel around Japan you’re continually confronted with new technology, creative new products and different solutions to common problems. In this column, I’d like to talk more about Bullet Train Technology and why this is important in the US in terms of Commercialization of ideas and technology.
Exporting Bullet Train Technology
In an interesting NYT article yesterday that profiled the Central Japan Railway (JR Central) Company’s efforts to sell Bullet Train technology in the US, we learned about MagLev trains, which is an entirely new technology. Read this article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/business/global/12train.html
The key points about efforts to export Japanese Bullet Train technology are:
- Existing high speed technology is mostly based on the original Japanese Bullet Trains, launched in 1964, which was rigorously protected by Japan for many years
- Competitors include: Bombardier from Canada, Siemens from Germany, Alstrom from France and GE and Lockheed Martin from the US
- Most of these trains can reach top speeds of 330 kilometers per hour or 205 mph
- JR Central is currently negotiating with Viet Nam to install a 1,570 kilometer Bullet Train linking Hanoi and South Viet Nam
- The Obama Administration has pledged $13B for the development of 11 high speed rail lines throughout the country, with $8B included in the budget for 2010
- JR Central’s experimental MagLev train called the MLX01 is the fastest train in the world at 312 mph, it is based on magnetic levitation technology that allows the train to float
- JR Central is interested in applying the MagLev technology on the leg between Tampa and Orlando, which will ultimately be extended to Miami
- Moving the MagLev technology out of the lab and into application in the real world is a major priority for JR Central but it is inexperienced in marketing and negotiating overseas deals
Innovation Lessons: Commercializing Ideas
One critical lesson from the the Japanese experience with Bullet Trains and particularly the MagLev technology is how to move technology out of the lab and into application so it can be sold ultimately commercialized. Japan, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland are the most adept countries in the world at innovation and all are reasonably adept at commercializing new innovations.
What can companies world-wide learn about Commercializing ideas from these countries, and particularly the Japanese?
The following 12 rules are an excellent reference point for commercializing ideas, they are from Brown University and can be found at the following web link: https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/download/attachments/1443180/12 rules for commercializing ideas.pdf?version=1
- Concept Name: the Purpose and Version of the idea and your 30 second elevator speech describing it as succinctly as possible.
- Concept Overview: one or two key benefits
- Core User Description: specifically who you intend to sell to that will benefit most from the product or service
- Storyboard of User Experience: Tell your story from the User’s Perspective
- Prototype: give a brief description of the latest prototype
- Benefits & Features: in that order, focusing more on benefits than features: Overt Benefit, Dramatic Difference to customers & Reason to Believe in the product and producing company
- Key Design Assumptions: why are you pursuing the current design and what have you tried in the past
- User Feedback: who have you shown the idea to in the past and what was their reaction
- Estimated Revenue: a critical step you must take seriously. What are your best estimates of revenue, who will buy the product or service, what key assumptions are you making, how will the product be distributed, etc.
- Status of Intellectual Property: what IP is there associated with the new product or service and what steps have you taken in terms of protection?
- Key Uncertainties: 70-90% of new product and services don’t survive more than one year, what are your unanswered questions?
- Expansion Opportunities: demonstrate how this idea could grow.
Charlie Alter owns Bentbrook Advisors LLC based in Sylvania, Ohio. He specializes in Growth Strategy, Innovation and Coaching and can be reached at email@example.com visit http://bentbrookadvisors.com/ for more information on his business advisory practice.