How does innovation happen? Is it random chance, or can organizations take control to spark it?
GLOBIS alumna Zsuzsanna Járfás sat down with Nagaoka Institute of Technology’s Professor Tetsuya Kaida, a key architect behind several of Toyota Motor Corporation’s revolutionary concepts, to explore what really makes the magic of innovation happen.
How Toyota Hybrids Reworked the Japanese Sense of Innovation
Járfás: To start off, what does innovation mean to you?
Kaida: Interestingly enough, the term “innovation” doesn’t exist in the Japanese language. Many people think there’s no need for it.
Great masterminds like the architect Kisho Kurokawa and animator Hayao Miyazaki would never have called what they did “innovation” or “creativity.” They went about their daily routine, and their passion resonated in the hearts of a few people. Where others saw deviation from the norm, these first followers instead saw a story that would expand into the future.
That passion and imagination proved to be contagious. It attracted more followers, and the “story” started to be called “innovation.”
Járfás: Does the creation of Toyota technology like hybrid cars share the same pattern? Did you know you were working on a breakthrough when developing the Prius, for example?
Kaida: Absolutely not. It was all business as usual.
Project teams would gather regularly to brainstorm new ideas and develop concepts. We wanted to have multiple points of view, and therefore decided to draw project members from a wide range of departments. We needed experts in diverse disciplines.
While we definitely enjoy sponsorship for Toyota innovation at the highest executive level, we still encountered endless resistance from those who had “never heard of” what we were working on. Maybe they weren’t familiar with the advanced technology, or they didn’t see the value it would lend to the user experience yet, or they weren’t even aware of the need to be environmentally friendly. But over time, perseverance did pay off, and our internal network of allies grew.
We owe the breakthrough to our fans in California. It’s thanks to them that our Toyota vehicle hybrids like the Prius became a market success despite so many brilliant ideas out there.
Toyota Innovation: Part Planning, Part Serendipity
Járfás: It sounds like, even at Toyota, innovation was a slow process, in a way. How did you stay motivated to stay the course?
Kaida: An organization’s nature is to promote order and routine. Every once in a while, however, there comes a moment when people in the organization will want to listen to a new voice.
To go back to our case with the hybrids, the time and place were right. Our perseverance paid off, and corporate sponsors caught on to the idea. Influential fans read our story and found in it exactly what they were looking for. The Prius approach has informed a lot of Toyota technology and innovation since.
So it did require a lot of patience, but it paid off.
Járfás: What’s your message to those who are frustrated trying to innovate at their own companies?
Kaida: Blossom where you are right now. Stop searching for paradise. Make every single opportunity you have, every single occasion that you are part of, a new piece of paradise. This will be your heritage, your future identity, and your reputation.
Too many people are obsessed with personal branding and standing out from the crowd. How about doing something meaningful for the crowd once in a while? How about looking around and finding opportunities to do things better?
Innovation should be an integral part of our daily lives. It starts with the little things, such as making your bed in the morning or cleaning up your desk at work.
Wanting to be Einstein, but waiting for someone to come and clean things up after you simply doesn’t work. We all need to create a sustainable environment of growth and harmony.
Try to improve the world we live in. Embrace blossoming in the here and now before planning to move ahead.