New Delhi: Shoji Shiba has served as a professor at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for close to 15 years and is currently professor emeritus, University of Tsukuba, Japan. He has also mentored more than 400 managers from India’s manufacturing sector and was honoured last week by Emperor Akihito of Japan for his contribution in building academic exchanges between the two nations. He has spent the last five years building an industry-academia-government relationship that has manifested itself, among other ways, in the Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing Programme, currently in session in Gurgaon under his tutelage. He spoke in an interview about what India and its managers need to strive for. Edited excerpts:
What is your assessment of the Indian manufacturing industry?
My impression regarding the auto, electronics and semiconductor industries in India is that not enough is being done, specifically in electronics because the infrastructure is still quite poor. India needs more electronics companies. Having an Indian Honda in not enough, India needs its own Sony. So far, there is no leading company in the field of electronics in India and it is a sector that is integral for the development of the country. Also, the time is not unlimited. If you don’t have the expertise, companies should bring it from outside. Sony did it in Japan. Under the leadership of (Masaru) Ibuka. The company brought transistor technology from one of GE’s businesses in the US to Japan, thereby revolutionizing the product technology.
How can Indian companies apply breakthrough management?
Having a breakthrough is nothing more than shifting your view from this side to the other side. Yours is one view. Shift the view. Then you can see the new paradigm. I will give you an example from an exercise I made my class, which consists of professionals from tier I manufacturing companies, go through this morning. I asked them to go to their suppliers—mostly tier II and III companies—and see if they can build a more beneficial professional relationship.
They in turn asked their suppliers what help and support the latter need. This is arrogance because it means they are assuming they are better than their suppliers in some way. Not everyone understands this. Maybe just one in 100 gets it. In the classroom, I never use the terms ‘train’ or ‘teach’—we are sharing with each other.
What steps can professionals take to develop a breakthrough mindset?
There are ways to make someone shift their view. Exposure beyond the existing horizon is one way. You can expand your perspective by getting exposed to new technology, engineering or the social sciences. Exposure to new cultures by being sent to Japan or even Calcutta or Cochin as long as it is different from where you are at present can also bring about this shift in view.
The other way to develop a breakthrough mindset is through reflection. When you speak, you speak only from your view. But you should have the awareness that there is an eye above you, below you and behind you. This awareness will lead to reflection.
Harvard University in the 1960s decided to change the structure of their undergraduate programme. They went back to the definition of an educated person and used that as a philosophy to evolve their programme. They said an educated person or a student coming out of the undergraduate programme should be able to differentiate opinion and fact.
It is about the 4Ws and 1H—what, when, where and who, and how.
What does management mean to you?
How to get more money for the organization and how to provide people better standards of living is the driving force for management. CEOs have the same mentality everywhere. Management equals science. It can be practised anywhere, anytime by whoever—if you follow the science, the same result will come out. Two plus two does not change in one year or 10 years.
At a conceptual level, there are three pillars of management working towards becoming more systemic and scientific—the operations pillar, which is concerned with processes. The second is the planning and strategy pillar, which is related to the future, and finally the results pillar that is what a company needs in order to survive—sound HR, money, culture and skill management.
How does symbolic disruption apply to manufacturing or product companies?
This is my view and it may be considered biased, but I believe that services are easier to disrupt than products. Services, because of their result orientation, have a shorter life cycle. Frequent iterations make them susceptible to fatigue and tiredness. Production and manufacturing processes require big investment and, therefore, have longer life cycles and the orientation is process driven and not result driven, thus providing better opportunities for development. If disruption does happen in manufacturing, it will have a greater and longer contribution. The compressor-free refrigeration provided by Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd’s Chotukool product is an example of symbolic disruption. It does not have a two-value orientation, which gives only the choice of customer satisfied or not satisfied. Such products are ranked on a continuation and have a multi-value orientation, and are ranked on a scale of small to large satisfaction. Chotukool because of its low energy consumption provides a large satisfaction.
Is there a close relationship between academics, the private sector and the government in Japan?
We have some prominent examples of academics joining government. Heizo Takenaka, a professor at Keio University, became the minister of finance under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
There are three routes through which academics get involved with government. At a basic level it is through joint research at research institutes. The second level is the application level, which is very popular and is through committees. This has been in practice for the past 30-40 years and these committees are seen to lay the scientific foundation for policy. An expert committee, for instance, from academia and government is formed to set standards of safety within nuclear plants. Finally, at the execution level, there are those like Takenaka who hold high-rank positions in the government.
With regard to the private sector, there was no influence from the private sector on academics till the late 1980s. The 1990s was a turning point in higher education in Japan and also the time the private sector and academics began developing a relationship. In academic circles, the fear is that the relationship may become so close that academics may lose their independence and pure research may go down as the private sector is more driven towards application-based research that has a monetary return. For pure research, you need to have a longer-term perspective. In the US, the academic and private sector community have been completely united from the beginning. I was pleasantly surprised to see the effectiveness of the relationship there during my time at MIT.