From the Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: January 2001

A quote I don't want you to miss. About the misconception that Japanese are not creative.

I CONDUCTED AN INTERVIEW for this issue's "Clash Course" article (see page 23) that had some great comments in it. I don't want you to miss these, so here they are:

"One thing that Americans tend to do -- and it's kind of a warning that I'll say here -- is that a lot of people tend to think that the Japanese are not creative, that they don't invent things. Now, be careful, because if you look at Japanese society, it's true that they might be less creative than, say, American society, but that doesn't mean that the individuals are not creative people. And what I noticed working in a Japanese corporation is that there are a lot of very brilliant people doing some amazing things -- very creative people, very intelligent. In general, because the Japanese are much better educated than Americans, be careful. It's really the business climate and the cultural climate that doesn't encourage people to be intrapreneurial and to really push their inventions and their creativity. So it's not because they're not creative, it's just because the environment doesn't promote it. If they get back to the sort of Meiji Restoration mentality, where they were very entrepreneurial, then watch out, because they're going to be a very fierce competitor. They'll take over the world if ever they do get their act together."

These words came courtesy of David Leangen. Leangen is the president and CEO of a young Montreal-based company called Konova, which specializes in knowledge management. The company licenses a technology from a Japanese trading giant that pre-organizes all the data on a network to allow for more effective searching, sharing, and storage. I was interested in Leangen's experiences at the trading giant, where he was an intern in the R&D department. What caught my attention was that he saw a great technology just lying around and decided to start a company with it ... but that his Japanese coworkers also saw it, also knew its value, and did nothing. Why did it take a foreigner to show the initiative? His quote above says it all.

Also in this issue, we explore the world of Japanese biotechnology (see page 58). Senior Editor Chiaki Kitada, who spent years getting inside Japan for The Los Angeles Times here in Tokyo, says that this subject was one of the most difficult-to-penetrate she's ever encountered. Even for a veteran Japanese journalist, the industry here just doesn't make itself accessible to the outside world. Kitada will be pursuing the biotech venture scene further; if you have leads, email her at -- Steve Mollman

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