I arrived in San Francisco on the evening of Sunday, October 23rd to meet American innovators as a part of a program for the Japan Society’s U.S.-Japan Innovators Project. I first heard about the Japan Society three or four years ago. It was set up in 1907 after the Russo-Japanese War and is believed to have been the brainchild of President Theodore Roosevelt and Jutaro Komura. The objective was to help Americans learn more about Japan.

Unsurprisingly, the society’s activities waned during the Second World War, but picked up again afterward following a donation of land and funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

I have given speeches on two occasions at the Japan Society building, located near the UN building in New York. The historic Japan Society held a series of commemorative projects to celebrate its centennial in 2007, including the U.S.-Japan Innovators Project. This project selected six innovators from the U.S. and Japan to visit each other’s nations for a week and participate in dialogue with other innovators and promote exchange between the countries. The six were chosen from business, society, and culture, with two from each sector. I was honored to be selected as a business innovator. The Japan Society not only covered the expenses for flight, accommodations, and transportation, but also arranged all my appointments with U.S. innovators, so I would be able to meet people who would otherwise be impossible to see.

I provided the Japan Society with several names of innovators I wanted to meet as options, and also had them give me a list of names. I narrowed down the area I would visit to the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley, and set everything up to follow a visit to Boston.

My week was split into two parts. This visit would be the first stage, and I would arrange a similar schedule before March. After the second stage, I will take part in an open discussion with Japan Society staff in New York and then to summarize everything in a report.

The evening of October 23rd, I boarded a direct flight from Boston to San Francisco. Upon arrival, I met up with Ms. Miyamoto, the Japan Society representative. We had a preliminary meeting over Chinese food.

Several innovators had kindly agreed to meet me on this trip:

  • Mr. Regis McKenna (Author of Relationship Marketing)
  • Mr. Randy Komisar (Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers)
  • Mr. Robert Joss (Dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business)
  • Mr. Alex Vieux (Publisher and CEO Red Herring Magazine)
  • Mr. David L. Sifry (Founder and CEO, Technorati)
  • Mr. Stuart Gannes (Director, the Stanford Digital Vision program, Stanford University)
  • Ms. Kriss E. Deiglmeier (Executive Director, Center for Social Innovation, Stanford Business School)

In between these appointments I scheduled a few other things:

  • Meetings with investors
  • Recruiting dinner with Japanese students at Stanford
  • Meeting with several entrepreneurs I might invest in

During this period, I woke up at 5 am to participate in international teleconferences with the Investment Committee at GLOBIS Capital Partners.

Every day was really exciting. At the start of the assembly, Miyamoto explained the purpose of the program and introduced me as an innovator from Japan. I then explained about my business school and venture capital, and the discussion began. Everyone had their own distinctive personality, making each discussion very different and genuinely thought provoking.

I met Mr. Regis McKenna over breakfast at the hotel. He has incredible insight, and the bearing of a wise man. I asked him a whole list of questions, such as, “What kind of people drive innovation?” “What kind of environment is important?”

He is one of the founders of Silicon Valley and has advised Apple, AOL, Genentech, and Silicon Graphics. During our conversation, he shared fascinating anecdotes of the “garage days” of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He comes to Japan twice a year, so he is somewhat familiar with Japan, as well.

I met Mr. Randy Komisar in his office at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in the mecca of venture capital, Sand Hill Road. His open-design, mountain-cabin style building was completely furnished with bright, wood-grain furniture, and every room and room had glass walls. It was here that legendary capitalists like John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, and more recently, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and even Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, are working. Everyone seemed casual in their behavior, but also dignified as they engaged in serious debate.

Eventually, Randy’s secretary came to greet me, and took me to Randy’s room. We shared ideas on U.S.-Japan venture capital and what it takes to create a company. More than anything, Randy is a staunch Buddhist—he has even written a book: The Monk and the Riddle (Dialogue with a Monk). He traveled all the way from India to Bhutan by bicycle (500–600 km of mountain roads over three weeks), then from China down to Myanmar and on to Laos and Vietnam. The conversation couldn’t help but be fascinating.

David L. Sifry of Technorati met me at his office in a slightly run-down neighborhood of San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge. The setting was steeped in the atmosphere of a garage start-up.

David actually lived in Japan for three and a half years. Technorati is his fourth major venture. Linuxcare, the second of his venture companies, received investment from Apax (formerly Patrikof), a GLOBIS partner.

It was so interesting to hear about his blunders. Unlike an investor, an entrepreneur puts his or her whole life into something, so it is easy to empathize. The most valuable thing for me was hearing about what he learned from failure and how he is now putting these learnings into practice.

I met with the Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business at his office on campus. Dean Robert Joss has had a very unconventional career. Although he received an MBA and PhD from Stanford, he walked straight into the business world without dealing with academics at all. After receiving his PhD, he joined Wells Fargo, and then became bank president at Westpac Bank in Australia. In 2001, he was invited to be the dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I was most interested in learning how these business schools are run. I asked many, many questions, like “What’s the difference between a dean and a CEO?” At first he seemed a little taken aback, but he graciously spent 40 minutes with me, smiling the entire time.

This all happened just after I had participated in the HBS Alumni Association’s Board of Directors meeting, and I was able to compare the management styles of Harvard and Stanford with GLOBIS from a fresh perspective. I met Mr. Stuart Gannes and Ms. Kriss E. Deiglmeier of Stanford University on campus.  I met with Mr. Alex Vieux in his office, 30 minutes north on the expressway from Palo Altoーthe first time I’d ever seen his office, though we’d met many times before in Tokyo, Seville, Cannes, Seattle, Shanghai, and Seoul.

Knowing these were important opportunities, I decided not to treat them as business meetings, but as opportunities to become friends with these amazing people. Forging a friendly relationship would be far more interesting and lasting than just meeting and swapping ideas.

In this way, I hope that American innovators can get to know Japan in a positive light, and presumably a new innovative exchange will be born. This was the channel for exchange the historic Japan Society had envisioned as a commemorative project on its 100th anniversary.

In fact, it has been said that the ceasefire declared in the Russo-Japanese war became possible thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt and Kentarou Kaneko becoming friends at Harvard. Jutaro Komura, who studied with Kaneko at Harvard, followed up on this connection in the negotiations, resulting in U.S. arbitration. The U.S.-Japan friendship network is clearly vital.