Management: Summer cuttings for cultivation

SUMMER is upon us, but not the summer doldrums. Consider these rumblings.

Shape of the future: The mad scramble to invent the multimedia age is on. MCI and British Telecom make a deal. Time Warner and US West get engaged. What's happened so far in the industry of computers, software, cable, telecommunications, publishing and entertainment is small change compared to what's coming. Winners? Losers? Who would dare guess? As Bill Gates of Microsoft told Fortune recently: 'If your business has anything to do with information, you're in deep trouble.' And that includes Gates.

The devil is in the details: When a European head of state gets the sniffles, the New York Times blankets the story for days. Yet coverage of the most dramatic change in Japanese politics in 40 years gets scant attention. The 'International' Herald Tribune offers weather reports from 40 cities in Europe, 10 in Asia. One more time: it's Asia, stupid]

Oh, come on: In Japan, tidiness, quality and presentation are the flavour of the millennium, not the month. In fact, order, simplicity and beauty are deified in Shinto, the state religion. Take the practice of flower arranging, or ikebana. Reverence for stark beauty is obvious. Moreover, the packaging of everything is a fetish - cans of soup and individual melons are presented as works of art. The bagging of a single postcard is a production.

You would also think jaywalking was a capital offence, even in the boondocks. If someone commits suicide by jumping in front of a train in the Tokyo underground, the family is fined for the disruption of service - the penalty varying according to the number of passengers delayed.

The Japanese have long been order freaks. No wonder emulating such obsessions is so difficult for Westerners.

Presentation counts (again): Hats off to Business Week for its annual cover story on product design. In an ever more crowded marketplace, design is one of the best - and least travelled - avenues to product differentiation. But like quality efforts, good design must be a way of life, not a 'programme'.

Engines of progress: I'm struck that at first glance most economies look alike. Average workers in America, Japan and India do about the same things - drive cabs, write memos, fix stuff. Except the ingenious Indian mechanic works on the street patching 15-year-old bicycles, while his Japanese and American counterparts doctor high- priced cars in air-conditioned service bays, using computerised diagnostic tools.

The difference, mostly, lies at the edge - sophisticated products and services on which the rest of us piggy-back our way to relative success. Breakthrough products depend, in turn, on an astonishingly few people.

'An ordinary man cannot develop good games, no matter how hard he tries. A handful of people can develop games that everybody wants,' said Hiroshi Yamauchi, chief executive of Nintendo. Last year, Nintendo's 892 employees generated over dollars 5bn in revenue (about dollars 6m each).

Providing a climate that produces great game designers, microbiologists, aerospace engineers and architects, then offers an entrepreneurial infrastructure that turns their work into gold - is essential.

The great divide: From 1968 to 1977, according to the McKinsey consultancy, real income (inflation adjusted) in the US grew by 20 per cent. Most of us participated equally, high-school dropouts gaining 20 per cent, college grads picking up 21. The next decade, with the information age flowering, changed all that. Between 1978 and 1987, income increased by 17 per cent, but high-school dropouts experienced a 4 per cent decline while college grads added a whopping 48 per cent. Education, anyone?

Forget miracles: Want to win in Japan? Russell Hanlin, president of Sunkist Growers, explained to the Asahi Evening News why exports to Japan amount to 25 per cent of the firm's revenue and 75 per cent of exports. 'Our success has not been achieved in one day or one year,' he said. 'It took 30 years of work. I've been personally coming to Japan for 30 years.'

Listen up, guys: 'We always dissuss things, then I'll make up our minds.' That's the word from one female respondent in an Australian survey of women's role in purchasing decisions. Women's input tipped the scales in 71 per cent of decisions involving purchase of a home computer; 88 per cent for health insurance; 91 per cent for a house; and 94 per cent for furnishings. Do your product development and marketing departments reflect such statistics?

Happy summer]

Copyright 1993 TPG Communications

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£12500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Adviser - OTE £24,500

£22500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound and outbound calls with...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £40,000

£18000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Insurance Bro...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic