Innovation Blog


Riding the Bullet Train of Innovation and Technology

  • Mar 04, 2015
  • By Yasuo Takayama, Business Consultants, Inc.
  • 1 タグ

Riding the Bullet Train of Innovation and Technology“Innovation” and “creativity” are words that are on the minds of top executives in every organization today. The word “innovation (kakushin)” began to be widely used in Japan 30 years ago. This is due in part to the influence of Peter Drucker’s “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (DIAMOND,Inc. 1985). “Creativity (souzou)” on the other hand, probably came into frequent use in Japan about 50 years ago.

 Various sources of literature show that both words are defined as “bringing forth a valuable breakthrough that has never been seen before.” Innovation has conventionally been used in Japan to mean “technological innovation.”

The Three Waves of Innovation

  1. The first wave of innovation in the industrial world is said to have occurred from the 18th to the 19th century. One example is, the steam locomotive which became widely used.
  2. The second wave of innovation spanned from the late 19th to the early 20th century, with the discovery of electrical energy and the petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine. In other words, the development of automobile mass production.
  3. The third wave of technical innovation began in America during the 1940s. It started as the development of technology geared toward making things bigger and faster. These developments were military in nature. Some examples of this wave of technological development include nuclear energy and jet engines.

From 1950 on, America discovered and commercialized new technology such as synthetics (nylon and material-like plastics), computer technology, electronics, systems automation, laser technology and biotechnology. The use of synthetics has been growing exponentially through the decades.

Alvin Toffler, is the futurist author of “The Third Wave (Chuo Koronsha 1982).” He once said that “Today, times are in a continuous super-industrial revolution.” He thought that the major direction of change was moving towards high technology and traditional industry being replaced by the service industry, or maybe a combination of the two. Innovations would change not only our way of doing business but also how we live our personal lives. The speed of those changes, according to Toffler, would accelerate greatly and eventually reach a point where radical change would happen overnight. Toffler called this form of rapid change, “a future shock.”

The times have indeed undergone a terrifyingly rapid change, just as Toffler predicted. I call it, “The Storm of Innovation.” This “storm” is bringing unbelievable changes to the way we do business and how we conduct our personal lives.

Here are some examples of the unbelievable changes this storm is bringing us:

  • Technological innovations, which include the growth of the Internet
  • New ceramics
  • Carbon fiber
  • Titanium alloy
  • Shape and memory alloys
  • Artificial bones and teeth
  • Fiber optic communication
  • Laser therapy
  • Genetically modified foods
  • The growth of mechatronics like robotics
  • Advances in communications and communication devices
  • Stem cell technology
  • 3D printers, and more!

Okay, let’s leave the history of innovation and return to our lives today. The way we live today is an extension of yesterday, and tomorrow is an extension of today. That’s why I think we are somewhat impervious to the violent change-taking place around us. Maybe it is like looking out the window while riding on the bullet train at 300 kilometers per hour, and not feeling as if you are moving all that fast. Yet, if you are standing on the local platform watching the Nozomi (super express) bullet train fly by on the express track, you can feel the impact of its impressive speed. The wind pressure and noise that is generated as it passes, the scenery that runs past us looking from the inside, can be surprising and breath-taking, no matter how many times you’ve witnessed it.

For those of us living in today’s world, just like riding that bullet train, the speed of innovation can be difficult to comprehend. We are constantly deciding which bullet train we are going to ride.  We think about the speed, destination, station stops and the impact on our surroundings caused by our passing. In other words, maybe we need to be on the outside, looking at, feeling and thinking about the “bullet train”, even as we are riding on it.