The 30th Installment
“What I think about innovation”

by Satoshi Yoshida,
Professor, Masters Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering

What I think about innovation - Trend of innovation

In 2007, following a request from the administration, the Science Council of Japan summarized opinions about innovation from the scientific aspect under the innovation promotion examination committee and contributed to the creation of Innovation 25. I think that this activity mainly focused on “what to make.” Meanwhile, at the innovation power strengthening subcommittee established under the comprehensive engineering committee of the Science Council of Japan, the discussion about domestic innovation continued, suggesting the possibility of discussing “how to make.”

- Necessity of understanding Japanese-type innovation

Innovation 25 enables us to see future international directions, laying the foundation for the creation of a technology road map. However, it does not show us how Japanese technology can become involved in the road map. The importance here is “what on earth is Japanese-type innovation.” We must logically understand the advantages and disadvantages of the technical power of Japan, and then we must consider how we can improve the advantages and cover the disadvantages. In addition, we must think about the properties of innovation that Japan will lead.

Therefore, researchers must clarify the properties of the technical power of Japan and analyze the tendency for Japanese-type innovation. In the analysis, it is very necessary to theoretically understand the abstract concept of technical power by following the thoughts of human beings in the creation of artifacts and capturing the tendencies.

- For understanding the properties of Japanese-type innovation

Postwar Japanese technology has attracted much attention and has been discussed from many different perspectives. However, its properties have seldom been discussed theoretically. It is difficult to say that the advantages of Japanese technology, which have enabled advanced technical innovation, are completely understood.

As the viewpoint to discuss the properties of artifacts widely, the relationship between components often receives attention. Research in this field was started by H. Simon and C. Alexander. The properties of the interdependent relationship between components are fundamental problems for the creation of artifacts. The field has a wide scope of application and high future potential. In recent years, it has been applied in current production activities by K. Urlich and others. In addition, the concept of module was proposed by C. Baldwin and K. Clark and was used to theorize the design concept of production activities mainly in the manufacturing industry. Discussions mainly on the domestic industries with the concept of “integration” are also promoted by Takahiro Fujimoto et al.

From the viewpoint based on fundamental mechanism suitable for the creation process of human beings, it may be possible to focus on innovation, which is technical progress that includes the influence on a certain society, and clarify the properties of Japanese-type innovation.

- Values produced by innovation

Traditionally, mainly via economics, researchers have tried to understand the problem of market mechanisms by concluding the fact that a market moves so that what consumers and society want sells well. This idea has been inherited in recent refined research, such as Pareto optimality and Nash equilibrium. Therefore, many researchers highly value ideas on economic policy, which is good to leave to market movement through deregulation.

However, from the viewpoint of the uncertainty accompanied by technical innovation, the limits in the reflection of the creativity of users, the setting of profit and loss points based on an initial estimation, and the selection by users based on short-term perspectives, it is understandable that proper determination of the market mechanism regarding products is impossible by leaving it to the market as stated above.

Thus, it is necessary to consider the kind of value that Japanese-type innovation can produce. This is because what innovation delivers to society and how it influences society are the most important in understanding innovation.

However, today when technology has progressed and the functions of a product can be diversified, it is difficult to know what to make both for manufacturers and for users. Creating advanced and diversified functions does not always provide high value. It may not be directly linked to the contribution to society. At present when products and basic technology are complex, the necessity to discuss what is the true value required by society is becoming more important.