Noboru Konno, Professor at Tama Graduate School of Business / Masakatsu Mori, Research & Development Group, Hitachi, Ltd.
In this feature, we bring you the content of the Kyōsō-no-Mori Webinar; Innovation Starting with a Question, an event hosted by the Hitachi R&D Group that was live streamed on June 8, 2021. As our guest, we welcomed Dr. Noboru Konno, professor at Tama Graduate School of Business, who has been advocating for innovation through Purpose Engineering. In this third part, we look at the basic question of "what is a purpose?" following our first question "what is social innovation?" and hear Dr. Konno's thoughts by taking an example of the U.K. railway project in which Hitachi took part in the past.


Click here for "[Part 1] What is Social Innovation? (First half)"
Click here for "[Part 2] What is Social Innovation? (Second half)"

The U.K.'s high-speed rail project as a form of social innovation

— Our second topic is "purpose." By looking into Hitachi's past projects through the perspective of Purpose Engineering, we hope to deepen our understanding of purpose and its meaning.

The example from Hitachi we are looking at today is the U.K.'s high-speed rail project, the Intercity Express Programme (IEP), which began operation in 2017. Since the train's route consisted of both electrified (railway lines that can provide electricity to the train in operation) and non-electrified sections, this project required advanced technology. So we had to come up with solutions such as bi-mode rolling stock that could handle both types of sections. We would like to hear Dr. Konno's thoughts from the perspective of Purpose Engineering. What do you think about this project?

画像: Rolling stock "Class 800" for IEP which began operating in 2017.

Rolling stock "Class 800" for IEP which began operating in 2017.

Dr. Konno
When I stayed in London, I would often encounter situations where the train didn't arrive on time. I think it was due to issues happening at the operational level, but those issues seem to have spread across the entire organization.

But what kind of impact did Hitachi's implementation of new rolling stock and maintenance services have? Firstly, on the small purpose level, trains started arriving on time. You might think it is natural for trains to arrive on time. But if we take an extreme example, thanks to proper scheduled operation, those who thought "the train isn't coming, so I'm not going to the office today," may start coming to the office on time every morning. With such a change in society, local employees' quality of labor will improve as well as the U.K. railway organization itself. Previously in a state of dismay, the organization will return to normal and the quality of labor of the workers will improve. This will also foster a sense of pride in their work in the railway sector. I think this is where the true purpose of the project lies.

The following point is what I have learned when I was studying Design Management (*) in the 90s. For example, if a company engages in the creation of a new business model by utilizing Design Thinking, the impact the company creates for the society as well as for the employees is huge. In other words, Design Thinking has the power to strengthen the sense of pride of those working there.

*A concept fusing the business scholar Ikujiro Nonaka's "Intellectual Creation Theory" and Design Thinking (Designer's process of thinking), advocated by Dr. Konno.

画像: The U.K.'s high-speed rail project as a form of social innovation

If you look at Hitachi's U.K. railway project from this perspective, motivations and prides of those who were in charge of rolling stock maintenance and operation increased by accomplishing the scheduled operation of trains. This resulted in the revitalization of the entire railway sector. Therefore, this can be described as an example of social innovation that was made possible by the interaction of big/medium/small purposes.

The meaning of manufacturing in the digital age

That was a highly inspirational story. The direct relationship between the product and society is becoming less and less visible. With regard to products, digital solutions are enjoying their heyday at the moment, but what's important is the function in terms of touchpoint with users, and the fact that this has a large impact on society. Dr. Konno's story made me re-think about this.

Recently, we often hear that Japanese companies will no longer be able to survive just through manufacturing. But without manufactured products, there are many cases where companies cannot contribute to society. It is important to let the public know the story behind the product, just like the U.K. railway project that Dr. Konno explained. "Why do we need this product?" "How can it be useful within society?" In short, to properly explain its purpose. Particularly those who are working to accomplish a small purpose tend to forget why the project is necessary for society. In order to boost the motivation of members involved in the project, I would like to highlight the storytelling approach from the perspective of Purpose Engineering.

画像: The meaning of manufacturing in the digital age

Dr. Konno
There is another thing that I learned from the U.K. railway example. According to a certain study, when you compare a manufacturing company with a service company, the manufacturing company's level of accumulation of intangible assets created from such example is actually higher. However, manufacturing companies won't be able to make money if they only accumulate knowledge by manufacturing business models. The challenge is how to multiply the knowledge and methods of manufacturing with the business model of the service industry. In this case, they don't have to be restricted to manufacturing mass-produced products to create value. They may be able to create new solution-like services while keeping the manufacturing element intact by utilizing Design Thinking. In short, by changing the business model, the power of manufacturing can be linked to the creation of innovation. This is what I felt after hearing your story.

This is exactly what we are hoping to do. However, if we are to change the business model, there will also need to be a change in the mindsets of our employees as well as social systems. This may be a challenge not only for Hitachi, but also for the manufacturing industry on the whole.

Click here for "[Part 4] How should companies tackle environmental issues?"

画像1: Innovation Starting with a Question - Vol.1 Purpose and Social Innovation Business
[Part 3] What is a purpose?

Noboru Konno
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).

画像2: Innovation Starting with a Question - Vol.1 Purpose and Social Innovation Business
[Part 3] What is a purpose?

Masakatsu Mori
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.

画像3: Innovation Starting with a Question - Vol.1 Purpose and Social Innovation Business
[Part 3] What is a purpose?

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.

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