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The Five Characteristics of Successful Innovators

There is not much agreement about what makes an idea innovative, and what makes an innovative idea valuable. For example, discussions on whether the internet is a better invention than the wheel are more likely to reveal personal preferences than logical argumentation. Likewise, experts disagree on the type and level of innovation that is most beneficial for organizations. Somestudiessuggest that radical innovation (which does sound sexy) confers sustainable competitive advantages, butothersshow that “mild” innovation – think iPhone 5 rather than the original iPhone – is generally more effective, not least because it reduces market uncertainty. There is also inconclusive evidence on whether we should pay attention to consumers’ views, with somestudiesshowing that a customer focus is detrimental for innovation because it equates to playing catch-up, butothersarguing for it. Even Henry Ford’s famous quote on the subject – “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said fast…

India And Japan: In Search Of A Relationship

Indian PM Modi and Japanese PM Abe
The wording of the sub-title, “in search of a relationship”, is deliberate. It would be incorrect to write “in search of a new relationship” because that would assume there was an “old relationship”; except in an indirect manner, which I shall come back to below, India and Japan have never really had a relationship. If one takes the major actors on the global stage today – the US, the EU, Russia, Brazil, China, India and Japan – the weakest link is between Japan and India. To cite only one example: as distant as Brazil and Japan may be geographically and culturally, there is a large emigrant Japanese population, estimated at about 1 ½ million, in Brazil. Similarly, there are Indian diasporas on all continents of the world and in many countries, but none of any significance in Japan. The total number of Indian residents in Japan (population 126 million) is 22,335, about the same number as in Sweden (population 9 ½ million)!
The recent (11-14 December) visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi therefore is significant. It could, as I shall also elaborate below, turn out to have tremendous significance, though in potentially alarming fashion. Before looking at perspectives, some retrospectives.
As I said, throughout history there have been no substantial direct ties between Japan and India. This is in contrast with China and Japan (and China and India) whereby the quasi entirety of Japanese culture, including the system of writing (kanji), administration, urban planning, Confucianism and Buddhism, are derived from China (and Korea), adopted in Japan, subsequently adapted, innovated and often improved upon. (Think of the Zen Buddhist Ryoan-ji in Kyoto.)
The Zen Buddhist Ryôan-ji in Kyoto
The Zen Buddhist Ryôan-ji in Kyoto
In fact, of course, Buddhism originated in India. It then spread east, to China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In India itself Buddhism was largely supplanted by Hinduism (and Islam), with the result that in India today while an estimated 80% of the population are Hindu, some 14% Muslim, just over 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, the Buddhist population corresponds to not much more than 1%, about 9 million souls.
The Great Statue of Buddha in Kamakura
The Great Statue of Buddha in Kamakura
China has by far the world’s largest Buddhist population: in the range of ¼ of a billion! Japan comes in second at 85 million; approximately 70% of the population identify themselves as Buddhists. But beyond the numbers, even the most superficial observer of Japan would rapidly recognize how deeply Buddhism is a fabric of Japanese culture, of Japanese traditional architecture and indeed of the Japanese soul. If the superficial observer delves more deeply, she can be mesmerized by the spiritual and architectural richness of the great Buddhist sanctuaries in Japan, notably Kyoto and Nara, but in many other parts of the country, such as the magnificent Miyajima on the Inland Sea, not far from Hiroshima, in the south, or, a site I visited quite often in the 1970s, Hiraizumi in the Tohoku region in the north. The no longer superficial but quite dazzled observer will of course not fail to be awed by the majesty of the great statue of Buddha in Kamakura.
Hiraizumi Chuson-ji in Iwate prefecture
Hiraizumi Chuson-ji in Iwate prefecture
For an extremely elegant and extensive presentation of the full impact of the Indian cultural impact on Japan, especially, but not exclusively, Buddhism, I very strongly advise readers to watch the brilliant video entitled Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan, which I am very grateful to my NIIT University colleague and good friend H.N. Harsha for having drawn to my attention.
The great (arguably unique) paradox however is that as immense and profound as the influence of Indian religion and civilization has been in Japan, it is not in the Japanese consciousness. India is not a part of the Japanese Weltanschauung (world view).
Coming to the more modern age, India was colonized by Britain from 1757 at a time when Japan had an official policy of closed country, refusing to have contacts with the outside world. While India remained a British colony until Independence in 1947, Japan, after it was “opened” in 1854, underwent perhaps one of the greatest social, economic, political and geopolitical transformations the world had seen until then – comparable possibly only to the recent transformations in the People’s Republic of China.
Japan was the only non-Western nation to join the ranks of the major industrial and imperial Western powers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Perhaps most illustrative of Japan’s rise was the fact that Britain, the great power par excellence, abandoned its policy of splendid isolation to forge an alliance of equals with Japan: the Anglo-Japanese alliance that lasted from 1902 to 1922. Thus Japan became close buddies with the Indians’ colonial overlords.
Japan’s spectacular and unexpected victory in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, the first time in the modern age that an Asian, non-white, nation defeated a white, European nation, raised the spirits and hopes of Asian nationalist and independence leaders virtually everywhere, including Indians.
Admiral Togo and the Japanese victory in the Battle of Tsushima. The Japanese navy was trained by and modeled on the Royal Navy
Admiral Togo and the Japanese victory in the Battle of Tsushima. The Japanese navy was trained by and modeled on the Royal Navy
Gandhi commented: “When everyone in Japan, the rich & the poor, came to believe in self-respect, the country became free…She could give Russia a slap in the face and today Japan’s flag flies high in the World. In the same way, we must, too, need to feel the spirit of self-respect”.
And Nehru: “Japan’s victory lessoned the feeling of inferiority from which most of us [Asians] suffered. A great European power had been defeated, thus Asia could still defeat Europe as it had done in the past. Japan’s victory was seen to be due to the adoption of the industrial methods of the West and these ideas and methods became more popular all over the East”.
The hope that the Japanese would emerge as the liberators of Asians was soon dashed. In August 1910 Japan annexed Korea following which ensued a most brutal, exploitative and humiliating colonization. The march of imperial Japan in pursuit of what was euphemistically called “the greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere” was on.
The blood-thirsty brutality of the Japanese on the inhabitants of the Asian colonies they “liberated” is narrated in detail in the first volume of the memoirs of the late Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, chapter three, “The Japanese Invaders”, pages 44 to 84. The British colonial overlords may have been obnoxious, racist and arrogant, but not as wantonly cruel as the Japanese invaders were prone to be.
India was not invaded by Japan during World War Two, not for lack of trying, but, as is well described in the excellent book by historian Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: the Struggle for Survival, it was thwarted initially by the resistance of the Chinese army. Japan had conquered Burma in 1942 and from there sought to invade northeast India. Following the heavy losses incurred by the Japanese army in the battles of Kohima and of Imphal in the spring of 1944 Japan was forced to retreat. India was saved from Japanese invasion and three years later at last gained independence.
There had been an attempt by the Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose with the Japanese directed Indian National Army to set up a government-in-exile (INA) in Singapore, but it never got involved in fighting or governing on Indian territory.
There is, however, an end-note to the fairly slim narrative of India, Japan and World War II. With the Occupation of Japan there was established in 1946 what was referred to as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. This was to be to Japan what Nuremberg had been to Germany. There were judges appointed from eleven nations, those that had fought against Japan, including from India in the person of Radhabinod Pal. The verdicts were foregone conclusions; they included a number of executions and imprisonments. The verdicts were quasi-unanimous, with one dissenting voice, that of Radhabinod Pal. His grounds for dissent were not that the Japanese were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, but he questioned the very legitimacy of the tribunal itself and what he referred to as its spirit of retribution. Justice was highly unlikely to be impartial, let alone blind. He was of course emphatically correct.
In the ensuing decades India and Japan established diplomatic relations, but there was not much beyond the formal protocol, whether politically, geopolitically, culturally, socially, economically, or indeed in sports – Indians play cricket, Japanese play baseball. On the international stage, India was a prominent architect and leader of the non-aligned movement, while Japan in military alliance with the United States followed Washington’s lead in what was referred to as a low-profile foreign policy.
Thus it is really only now, at the end of 2015, that India and Japan are forging a relationship under the common impulse of their two nationalist heads of government, Modi and Abe. The foundations on which this relationship is being built, however, could have catastrophic consequences. Basically it is being driven by a common apprehension of the rising Chinese global power. Both India and Japan have territorial and other forms of disputes with China. India and China were briefly at war in 1962; the Indians were defeated, the scars remain. Throughout most of the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century Japan was at war with China, committing atrocities that it has difficulty recognizing and thereby feels resentful.
If India and Japan are seen to be forging a military relationship, including by bringing in other nations, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia, this could be the beginning of a very slippery rapid road to confrontation. The Japanese in particular should remember that it was this perception of encirclement (by the US, Britain, the Netherlands and China), jeopardizing access to sources of raw materials and energy, that in part motivated the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, thus extending the Sino-Japanese war to the Pacific War.
Thus while the proposal for Japan to build a high-speed train line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is great – India desperately needs investment in infrastructure – the proposal for India to buy Japanese military seaplanes is not, and that to sign a nuclear deal is emphatically wrong. One of the great perils of this age is the breakdown of global governance and one of the primary cornerstones of global governance is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). India is one of four rogue nuclear powers (the other three are Israel, Pakistan and North Korea) that are not signatories to and therefore do not abide by the NPT. A nuclear accord, as The Economist noted, would “give a Japanese seal of approval to India’s status as a nuclear-armed state”. Furthermore, Japan’s “peace constitution” compiled by the US Occupation authorities in 1946 has served Japan eminently well, has been an untarnished blessing for Asia, and has been a rare ray of peace in a world of geopolitical clouds. As many Japanese citizens earnestly desire, the government should stick to and strictly abide by the Constitution.
Anti-Indo-Japanese nuclear deal demos in Tokyo (Japan Times)
Anti-Indo-Japanese nuclear deal demos in Tokyo (Japan Times)
As I had occasion to recount in a previous blog I had the great opportunity of participating in Delhi in September this year in the Vivekananda International Forum on Hindu-Buddhist global initiatives in conflict avoidance and environmental consciousness. These are the proper foundations on which the Indo-Japanese relationship should be forged: it would give both India and Japan a crucial mission, it would be great for Asia and it could have an immensely beneficial impact on the planet – both in terms of conflict avoidance and in terms of environmental consciousness.