TOKYO, Oct 13 – That old saying “necessity is the mother of innovation” comes to mind as a restless world seeks global solutions in the face of nagging economic maladies that affect big and small nations and communities alike. Against this backdrop, the Asia Innovation Forum 2012, a two-day event on Oct. 12-13, 2012, brought together a mix of creative minds to exchange views and explore ways to create what organisers called a “chemical reaction” of fresh, productive ideas.
IPS Asia-Pacific’s Suvendrini Kakuchi talked to Noboyuki Idei, president of the Asia Innovators’ Initiative that organised the forum. Idei, a former president of Sony Corp, is CEO of Quantum Leaps Corp.
Q: What’s your understanding and vision of innovation?
Idei: Innovation is now key to growth. In the past, this very important theme had been defined too narrowly. It focused too
heavily on technology advances for business profit. But the way I see it is that the seeds of innovation are everywhere – in the kitchen, in society and in business etc. Indeed, innovation stems from necessity; it is everywhere – creating at the individual level and at an expanded stage that involves bigger stakeholders. Based on this definition, there is no doubt that innovation is playing a key role in the emerging countries.
In Asia, the needs are growing multiple and complex as their economies grow. Take for instance the rapid urbanisation in those countries. This transformation needs solid infrastructure that calls for quality water, sustainable energy sources and good medical care. This is where Japanese technology can become useful. Japanese cities are extremely efficient and we have a headstart there which we can share with Asia.
Innovation in the 21st century is now concentrated on seeking contributions that can meet the needs of globalisation. I would like to focus on communication innovation as a solution. The Internet has become a huge opportunity for new ways of doing business, easing labour costs and collaboration across countries. Innovative communication is paving the way for rise of small and medium companies into the business playing field.
Q. In this era of growth in Asia, what is the role of Japan?
Idei: The rise of Asia, including China, has achieved remarkable economic achievements. But at the same time they are facing many problems that Japan as a mature nation has already experienced. In fact, as Japan’s economy moves away from its formerly high growth rates, problems are commonly shared – social inequality, ageing populations and heavy public spending are some of the pressing regional issues.
Inclusive growth – a path that can reconcile these problems and now been identified as a way forward – must be dealt with through innovation. Japan does not look for long-term solutions any more as an individual nation, but rather through an Asian regional network. Now is the time for new innovations to be developed on a collective basis and this is where the Asia Innovators’ Initiative is playing a role. The forum aims to be a vital space for the launch of new ideas by Asian innovators who represent the diverse cultures of the region and who bring unique and constructive breakthroughs.
This time, we have had participants working in a vast array of disciplines form new steps to commercialise the next generation’s genomic exploration to fashion. Our project includes an award that rewards young Asian entrepreneurs who are working on important new business projects that will contribute to social well-being.
Q: What is the innovation challenge in Japan that has led to technology development in Asia?
Idei: Japanese technology has focused heavily on developing products to cater to consumer needs. Companies, especially Sony, have brought into the market extremely useful consumer products that are have risen to become respected household brands in Asia and around the world. The challenge we now face is to meet the needs of the Internet society, and that means we have to move away from products and invent in new ways.
Japan’s goal is to create from new experiences that are based on the multiple disciplines that are provided by the Internet. Our new vision is to be innovative, multiply technologies, and that is an exciting future. Japan and Asia are on the path to collaborate and by understanding each other’s culture and history. There is the possibility of new ideas for a new vision for 2020. (END)