“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different from the present.”
These are the words of Peter Drucker (1909–2005), the management theorist who systematized management. The future is unpredictable, from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to the risk of natural disasters brought about by climate change. In such an era, what should we aim for, and how should we live?
This column will be a series of articles with the message that we should open up the uncertain and unpredictable future together with a “Future-Building Mindset.”
As Japan’s population continues to decline, the way we work and the way companies operate will change, and we will need to build a society that can run on less labor by fully adopting AI (artificial intelligence), robots, and online services. In addition, the myth of economic growth driven by product consumption will end. We live in an age in which people are searching for a new kind of affluence to replace the sufficiency of goods, and even people’s sense of values is changing. Conventional wisdom will be overturned, and a paradigm change will occur. The wave of great change is not limited to business. Under the new values, all organizations and activities need to rethink what has been taken for granted and change it to the best way from the perspective of the future. It is not an extension of what has been done in the past but is more like building from scratch.
These times of change will also create many business opportunities. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, we need to find out what the issues are, come up with solutions, gather our colleagues, and implement them. It is extremely important to take on new challenges without being bound by precedent. This attitude and spirit of creating a new future is being referred to as the “Future-Building Mindset.”
The Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate social change
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics became the first Olympic Games in history to be postponed. The Japanese government also declared a state of emergency on April 7, 2020, and although the spread of the disease was temporarily halted, a second state of emergency was declared on January 8, 2021, with a focus mainly on Tokyo. Against this backdrop, at the time of writing this column (end of January 2021), more than 2.2 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19, and the total number of cases of infection has exceeded 100 million. Although vaccines have now been developed and people are beginning to receive them, the future remains uncertain.
Worldwide, four billion people travel by plane every year. We have created an affluent society in which people and goods come and go on a global scale. Ironically, it is the very people who have been able to move around in this world who are spreading the virus. The only way to survive this crisis is to reduce the opportunities for human contact and stay at home for a while. Economies around the world are stagnant, and governments are scrambling to cope. People have shifted to remote work, avoided going out unnecessarily, watched out for infections, and spent their days taking care of their health. What is really important to us? What is work? Has humanity reached contentment? It is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves these questions again.
Covid-19 was an unintentional trigger for the future. It will lead to social change as shown in the diagram above. Humanity was already in the midst of major changes: a shift in the social structure toward population decline, a correction of excessive economic growth, and greater concern for the environment. Global warming and climate change are said to be increasing the risks, as viruses become infectious to humans through genome mutation. Human beings cannot fight nature. We can only coexist with nature by preserving the Earth’s environment. Humans are just a part of the Earth’s ecosystem, and we cannot allow further destruction of the environment for the sake of economic growth. The novel coronavirus should be taken as a warning to humanity, as it faces a host of problems such as global warming and environmental pollution caused by plastics and is unable to make major decisions despite being aware of the problems. The transition to a new social model (a “new normal”) will proceed rapidly.
If digitization and online penetration can be achieved, most things can be accomplished remotely, and much of human labor can be replaced through advances in AI and robotics technologies. Online booking, automated reception, cashless payments, etc., are all possible with current technology. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, society and businesses are being urged to adopt these technologies as soon as possible, which is the direction we should be heading in, except for the time frame. Online medical treatment, online education, video conferencing, etc., are all things that can be done. In fact, they are spreading rapidly this time. The point is that if we have the will to move forward, we will move forward at once. What is important for innovation is the strong will of the people who promote it.
Why is a “Future-Building Mindset” so important?
The term “Future-Building Mindset” expresses the desire to create social value as well as to pursue economic value. Startups are an effective way to create a concrete future. Startups should not just be about starting a business and making money but should have a mission to cause innovation that will bring about major changes in society. To do so, they need to have a sustainable profit model.
The English term “start up” originally means “to start something” or “to make something happen.” In Japan, the term “venture” is widely used for corporate entities that are engaged in new businesses, but “startup” has the nuance of aiming for growth in a more pioneering manner.
It is fun and very rewarding to create exciting projects that use your skills, ideas, and experience in order to change society and solve problems. And, when we can directly sense that someone is happy with the product or service we have created, or that it is useful to society, we may feel that there is meaning in working to advance that endeavor. A Future-Building Mindset may be a chance to make your life more enjoyable.
The following actions represent a specific challenge to a “Future-Building Mindset.”
・Envisioning the future you want to achieve as your “mission”
・Setting specific goals and creating a plan
・Gathering allies and teammates to implement the plan
This is not a discussion about improving the conventional ways of doing things or norms but rather blazing a new path toward a more ideal future without relying on precedent. I believe that the Future-Building Mindset is a mindset that should be held by not only entrepreneurs but also all people at this time of great social change. In other words, it is a way to break through to a yet-unseen future.
Even large corporations are facing the challenge of launching new businesses with an eye on the future, without being bound by existing businesses, and triggering innovation with a Future-Building Mindset is now a common theme throughout Japan. Take the risk to stand up for yourself, gather your allies, and take on new challenges. If this is done within an existing company, it may become a new business or an in-house venture, and if it is an entrepreneurial endeavor, it becomes a startup.
Even established companies that have existed for over 100 years are no exception. By using the latest technology and the Internet, new developments may be born. There is also a way for volunteers to get together and work on a project. The challenges are varied. Just as it has become easier for startups to take on new challenges, the attitude and mindset of creating the future on one’s own has become more accessible to us, and the threshold has been lowered.
Japan has a wealth of advanced technology and a heritage of traditional craftsmanship. Its people are very capable and have a strong sense of unity. They are also very serious and sincere. Add to this the Future-Building Mindset, and you have a force that can move the world. Of course, it is not always easy to successfully address challenges. It takes a lot of factors, including timing, to make a big success. It is not all about increasing the sales and profits of the business. Just knowing that you did something good and that it was useful to someone else is a wonderful thing.
Many people feel that something is lacking in their current job and are feeling hazy about it. We all have a little bit of a desire to try something more worthwhile. I hope this column will inspire readers to step into something new.
[Tomihisa Kamada: President of TomyK / Co-founder of ACCESS Corporation / Entrepreneur / Investor].
PhD. in Information Science from the Graduate School of Science at the University of Tokyo. Doctor of Science. Founded ACCESS, a software venture company, while still a student. In 2001, ACCESS was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers section (currently within the First Section) and expanded its business globally. In 2011, Kamada retired from the company and founded TomyK, a firm providing support to startups, and is currently launching a number of technology startups in the areas of robotics, AI, human augmentation, space, genomics, and medicine. Kamada is the author of the book “Technology Startups Create the Future: Aiming to Become a Tech Entrepreneur” (University of Tokyo Press), which explicates the entrepreneurial mindset.