It has often been said that companies in Asian societies have a problem with innovation, in particular the much-loved "disruptive" kind. The truth is that innovation is at the very heart of Taiwan's business culture.
Taiwan is a country of continuous innovation
Taiwan has been a country of continuous innovation. A stellar example is that of Hsinchu Science Park. Three decades ago it was organized according to military discipline and Japanese kaizen. Kaizen is the idea of continuous improvement. Kaizen was developed after World War II with the participation of American consultants, among them the quality specialist W. Edward Deming . But is Kaizen really new? It looks a lot like Confucius philosophy applied to modern business.
The list of Taiwanese companies introducing exceptional improvements and demonstrating greatness of this kind is indeed very long. Here are a few more examples: The Taiwanese were the first to demonstrate the viability of fiberglass yachts, thus reducing the cost of buying and owning a yacht . Taiwanese orchid growers brought the price of orchids down to earth . Taiwanese whiskey is top rated in the world . Taiwan is also the seat of patent activity in Asia .
In the 21st Century the rate of technology change has been exponentially increasing. Incremental change has given way to disruptive change. This leads to the question, is the military discipline and Kaizen approach enough for keeping the Taiwanese technical revolution moving at full speed?
The Taiwanese have responded by setting up startup boot camps and incubators. In these places creative young people can bring their product concepts, work on developing them, while being mentored on how to commercialize them. Management consultant Thomas Walker-Lynch has asked an interesting question. What would happen if the Taiwanese used their genius for improvement to improve the startup incubator model itself, i.e. what if they introduced meta-kaizen?
Meta-kaizen to reinvigorate Taiwans's economy
Here are some attributes he suggests that a meta-kaizen incubator would have:
- We share the success. With meta-kaizen, the boot camp members belong to the boot camp rather than to a constituent company. They receive stocks in the boot camp, and share in the group success, independent of how an individual product succeeded. All members work hard, so all members deserve to be part of the success.
- We all do what we do best. The meta-kaizen boot camp provides dormitories with house cleaning and a food service so that technical people can concentrate on the their technical work, business people on their business work, while others contribute in the way they are able.
- We respect age. The meta-kaizen boot camp includes people of all ages, even those who are "retired". That way experience guides and focuses youthful energy. Also, contacts and business relationships are preserved.
- Being a team is more than just work. Sometimes we charter a bus and go on trips together. We are more than just people who stand side by side at the office.
- Dedication to family. We know that young people need to develop intellectually and professionally. We expect that after some time of being part of the boot camp team it will be time to pass the torch along. In this way industry backers also benefit due to labor training as well as product development. Note it is common in Silicon Valley for a company to buy a startup for its team. Meta-kaizen has this built in.
While somewhat idealistic in its approach, the meta-kaizen model is perhaps better suited to innovation in Asia than the competitive or outright combative approach seen in the West. But could it be more effective? It's definitely worth a try.