Kickstarter and Pebble Watch Success: Could this Work in Japan?

Some months back I spent around one hundred dollars for a watch that I had never seen, that did not yet exist, to be made and delivered by a bunch of people I had never heard of. Sound crazy? Well, I wasn’t alone. Over 69,000 people decided to do the same thing. That is the story of the Pebble smartwatch for which over $10 million dollars was raised through Kickstarter crowd funding, a record amount. (I read that the original funding target had been $100,000!)

I received my Pebble last week, and I have to say I think it is a beautiful product, and very cool with its connectivity with my iPhone. I also feel good to be one of the many people that helped bring this product to market. Pebble and Kickstarter have changed the rules about bringing cool consumer products to market.


Japanese electronics have lost much of their cool over last two decades. Japanese giants like Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic have fallen from grace. However, I don’t think the Japanese have lost their sense of cool or extraordinary ability to innovate. Maybe Kickstarter-type crowdfunding and people like the upstarts at Pebble are precisely what Japan needs to revive its moribund electronics industry. The Japanese already have a cultural penchant for pulling together in large numbers to achieve something great. The Kickstarter model seems like it might be a natural fit for Japan.

The only questions may be whether Japan Inc. will tolerate such brash and unchoreographed business practices, and will the government permit such unusual financing methods. Who can say? All I know is I would be happy to kick in ¥10,000 to help bring a cool Japanese smartwatch to market, particularly if I could get one of the first models. Wouldn’t you?

‘Project 45’ transformed into ‘Project 10’

Currently ranked at number 11, Kei Nishikori is poised to become the first Japanese tennis player to enter the top 10 in the world. Prior to Nishikori, no Japanese tennis player had ranked higher than 46. So for a while, Kei had a much hyped goal to beat that record dubbed ‘Project 46.’ Now ‘Project 46’ has become ‘Project 10.’

Kei Nishikori recalls ‘Project 45’ as being “no pressure” for himself, as if playing tennis had been “just a hobby.” Not so for Project 10.‘ And what comes after ‘Project 10?’ `Perhaps ‘Project 1?’

In business, we set lofty goals for ourselves and our companies, and often achieve them. But what next? Do you feel that you have arrived and then simply remain there? Success is not a point of arrival, but rather a continuous striving for the next level.

So what was your ‘Project 45?’ and do you now have a ‘Project 10?’ Like Kei Nishikori, keep striving, so that all your past successes feel like they were just a hobby.

Abenomics and the ‘Honne’ and ‘Tatemae’ of Growth and Change

The recent Upper House elections resulted in a resounding victory for the Liberal Democratic Party, and is ostensibly a mandate of support for Abenomics. The question remains whether Prime Minister Abe will use this political capital to implement the real change that Japan so desperately needs. So far what we have seen is a recycling of what made Japan, Inc. successful in the past–a low Japanese yen to help spur exports and government spending to support the domestic economy. However, Abe seems reluctant to take on real reform to support economic growth that would require uncomfortable changes in attitude and practices. Such reforms include liberalizing the agricultural sector, bringing more women into the workforce, and lifting laws that overly protect labor.

The Japanese word for superficial actions that belie real intent is tatemae (pronounced TAH-TAY-MA-EH). The word for real intent is honne (pronounced HOWN-NAY). Skillful use of honne and tatemae is a fundamental part of success in Japanese society. However, I have found at times that the use of tatemae borders on the ludicrous

For example, when a Japanese government official was recently asked what was being done to make daycare more available for women who wish to enter or remain in the workforce (daycare is in desperately short supply because of a shortage of childcare workers), he explained that this is why the Japanese government is supporting the robotics industry. The reasoning being that someday soon we will be able to entrust our children to the care of android nannies.

The owners and leaders of many small to medium size businesses in Japan, most of which have not yet benefited from Abenomics, have been justifiably critical of the government’s approach. However, the same owners and leaders are often guilty of the same behavior as the government in their own organizations. Like in Abenomics, they recycle old tactics that are comfortable and worked in the past, but that will not take the organization to where they want it to go. They create their own tatemae to avoid uncomfortable questions and conflicts. In extreme cases, they begin to believe their tatemae. While Prime Minister Abe has the excuse of the need for political capital to stay in office long enough to effect change, what is the excuse of a business owner and leader?

Real leadership and change is about honne and not about tatemae. As owners and leaders of small to medium size businesses, let us serve as a model for government leaders to emulate. Let us take charge of change and growth in our own organizations. Only then will our criticism of government be meaningful.