Successful global projects have three purposes: big, medium, and small
Here, I would like to give a brief explanation of "Purpose Engineering," a concept that I have been working on at Future Center Alliance Japan (FCAJ). As I mentioned briefly in the beginning, business people of the world are currently focusing on "purpose." However, what should we do if we are to use this measure to realize a successful project, instead of simply stating our goals? As I analyzed successful global projects from the past, I discovered a pattern. Please take a look at the figure below.
Successful projects have three purposes in common: big, medium, and small. Let’s take the Apollo program for example. Its big (meta) purpose perhaps was to explore space for the sake of humanity. But there was also likely the aim of the U.S. to put an end to the Cold War by beating the Soviets in the Space Race. There was also a small purpose, a personal goal of the rocket developer Dr. Wernher Von Braun to "launch a rocket into space."
But what's important is the mid-purpose. Since it serves as the pivot for realizing the project by connecting the big and small purposes, it is also called a "driving objective" or "mission." Speaking of the Apollo program, the mid-purpose connecting the big purpose which was world peace and the small purpose which was the personal wish of Dr. Von Braun, was to "put three astronauts into a rocket, have them orbit and land on the moon, and bring them back safely before the end of the 60s."
For carrying out a project, it is essential to make the mid-purpose clear. Another requirement is that you set an extremely creative purpose. And this is where design's "ability for synthesis" holds an important role. In addition to this, it is vital for the individual purposes to interactively work toward a single purpose, instead of creating a hierarchical system that subdivides the big purpose into smaller ones.
At Hitachi, we are working on "co-creation," a way of collaborating and finding solutions to solve customer issues. But as we look back with regard to the perspective of Purpose Engineering, I believe each project had these big, medium, and small purposes.
Currently, Hitachi advocates for the large goal of creating three values: environmental value, social value, and economic value. However, Hitachi also has numerous solutions and technologies. Therefore, no matter what project it is, we can set up various big, small, and medium-sized purposes to achieve it. But, the big question is, can Hitachi properly deliver value within a project with each customer?
Our customers' issues are so complex that there are times where trade-offs cannot be avoided. When we come up against such difficult situations, we think about how to proceed by looking toward our big purpose, the goal of creating three values I just mentioned.
Or, we choose a technology that is suitable for accomplishing the customer's goal. We can also propose the other technologies Hitachi has and how they could apply to the customer's project. We have been working to solve our customer's issues through such iterations (development cycles that are repeated at short intervals). As we look back, we have accumulated experience that is similar to the way Purpose Engineering thinks. However, we would still like to properly organize these experiences and utilize them in our projects.
Creating a "wiseplace" that suits the three-step purpose
As Mr. Mori mentioned in the beginning, technology itself has a function but it doesn't have a purpose. In other words, it is the people in the society who are to decide whether the technology is good or bad. In the future, it will be even more difficult to accomplish social innovations without a close relationship between technology and society. To put it differently, we need to establish a dialogue between society and those belonging to the fields of science and technology. And to do so, an open forum for such objectives is necessary. For example, I believe this "Kyōsō-no-Mori" is one such a place.
At Hitachi, we always want to proceed with individual projects while remaining aware of the value being delivered to customers. Because of this, we began organizing our research activities in the framework proposed by Purpose Engineering and comparing them with the activities of FCAJ (*1), where you are president. We have put them into the figure below.
*1 Future Center Alliance Japan (FCAJ), a general incorporated association. FCAJ is a multi-sector organization of companies, local governments, public offices, universities, and NPOs that envisions to put innovation into action.
Please allow me to add two of my findings.
There is an expression "Theory of Change (ToC)," that is commonly used among those involved in social innovation. ToC is a concept that serves as the pivot of business management among NPOs and social businesses whose purpose is to solve social issues. In ToC, the kind of output you should create through a project is equivalent to my small purpose. What kind of collective impact (*3) you should create for the world is equivalent to my big purpose, and the outcome is the mid-purpose. As you can see, the setting of three purposes is found in the ToC as well.
*3 Organizations from various sectors including administrations, companies, NPOs etc., collaborate to solve social issues and create impact.
In addition, an important factor in driving projects forward is setting a "wiseplace," as I pointed out previously.
One aspect of the wiseplace to think about big purposes and where administrations, companies, and universities can hold cross-disciplinary discussions to conceptualize and hypothesize about the future can be described as a "Future Center." Another aspect of the wiseplace necessary for the accomplishment of individual small purposes is a "Living Lab." This can be described as a research institute within society, a "living laboratory," a place where residents, universities, and administrations accumulate their experience of social experiments and test hypothesis. I think in the past, "Kyōsō-no-Mori" was positioned as a research institute that worked only within the confines of the company, but now, it has become a research institute within society. I would also like to add the "Innovation Center" to this figure as the last aspect of the wiseplace to accomplish mid-purposes. This is the place where engineers from companies create various prototypes.
They establish a hypothesis at the Future Center, test it at the Living Lab, and bring it to life in the form of a prototype at the Innovation Center. By taking these elements to be the engine for social innovation, I believe the big/medium/small purposes and places like "Kyōsō-no-Mori" can work in harmony.
Professor of the Department of Management and Information Sciences at Tama Graduate School of Business
Chairperson and Director of Japan Innovation Network, President of the Future Center Alliance Japan (FCAJ), and Managing Director of ECOSYX LAB, INC. After receiving his B.A. from the Department of Architecture, School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University, he gained a PhD in Management Information Science. In addition to popularizing the concepts of design management, knowledge creation management, purpose engineering, and innovation management, he is also involved in practical activities, such as leadership education, organizational transformation, workplace design, and urban development projects all based on organizational and societal knowledge ecology. He is also heavily involved in creating innovation opportunities and networking activities with the world’s top intellectuals through the FCAJ and Topos Conferences. He served as a juror for the Good Design Award in the design management field from 2004 to 2012. His multiple publications include: Innovate by Design-based Management; Art Company; and The Grammar of Knowledge Creating Management for Prudent Capitalism (co-authored with Japanese organizational theorist Ikujiro Nonaka).
General Manager, Global Center for Social Innovation
Research & Development Group, Hitachi, Ltd.
Masakatsu Mori joined Hitachi, Ltd. after obtaining his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Engineering at Kyoto University in 1994. As a researcher in the Systems Development Laboratory, he worked on new services and solutions using cutting-edge digital technologies. He was also a visiting scholar at University of California, San Diego from 2003 to 2004. After leading the Planning Office at the Yokohama Research Laboratory and Production Engineering R&D, he was appointed to lead European R&D as Corporate CTO as well as General Manager of the European R&D Centre of Hitachi Europe, Ltd. in 2018. He was appointed to his current position in April 2020. He has a PhD in Information Science and Technology.
Yukinobu Maruyama, host
Head of Design, Global Center for Social Innovation – Tokyo
Research & Development Group, Hitachi, Ltd.
After joining Hitachi, Yukinobu Maruyama built his career as a product designer. He was involved in the foundation of Hitachi Human Interaction Laboratory in 2001 and launched the field of vision design research in 2010 before becoming laboratory manager of the Experience Design Lab UK Office in 2016. After returning to Japan, he worked in robotics, AI, and digital city service design before being dispatched to Hitachi Global Life Solutions, Inc. to promote a vision-driven product development strategy. He is also involved in developing design methodology and human resource education plan. He took up his current position in 2020.