Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Just got out of a meeting of the Association of Corporate Executives or the Keizaidoyukai where I am a secretariat member and was the youngest member when I joined. The Keizaidoyukai is one of the two most powerful economic associations in Japan. The other one is the Japan Business Federation or the Keidanren. The Keidanren is the federation of all of the big companies, the members representing their companies. The Keizaidoyukai represents individual corporate executives. The Keidanren is more powerful, but the Keizaidoyukai has played a very important role in the past in pushing for reform. The Keizaidoyukai was founded after the war by a group of visionary business leaders in their 30's to rebuild Japan. It has grown into a large organization with over a thousand members and an average age of 66 years old.

Tony Kobayashi, the chairman of Fuji-Xerox is the chairman, but his term will end next month and is most likely going to be succeeded by Kakutaro Kitashiro, the chairman of IBM Japan. I'm a big fan of Tony Kobayashi and Mr. Kitashiro is someone I greatly respect. I should be overjoyed that Mr. Kitashiro is taking over the Keizaidoyukai but today we had a meeting with him and I was quite negative. I felt a bit bad, but I told the group that I was considering resigning because I was frustrated with the lack of measurable results from our meetings and that I thought it was difficult to try to gain the support of younger members when most of the people in the association were basically retired and had a lot of time to talk and not act. We all talked about how we needed to reform the Keizaidoyukai if it was going to be an agent of change in Japan.

I walked away feeling like I should give Mr. Kitashiro a chance to change the Keizaidoyukai, but with a feeling that it would be difficult. I can barely stand the tedious task of trying to convince the senior Japanese business executives. I can't image the really young leaders wanting to spend their time in these meetings. It's really a pity considering the strong philosophical foundations upon which the association was founded, but as with anything, age and power bring a variety of issues and it is losing its edge…

PS I resigned from the New Business Conference per my promise that I made here.


I understand your frustration at the lack of visible results, dealing with an apparently slow-moving informal-ish group of executives.
Aren't however such channels still valuable as a way to maintain high-level contacts with the business world, despite the time you might sometimes waste with them?
Actors of change like you have as mission and responsibility to explore and leverage all the effective channels available, to engage successfully with the japanese political, business and cultural/academic spheres :-)
Plant seeds of subversion, float crazy visions. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the ideas you articulated and subtle influence you exerted might take root over time...

On an unrelated note, what's the position of japanese executives and intelligentsia regarding the US attitude towards Iraq ?
Methinks japanese diplomacy missed another opportunity to add value here.
Japan used to have a capital of sympathy, and was still perceived in the middle-east as non-aligned with the US or Europe. Japan would thus have been in a good position to strongly push for a pacific resolution plan which included the exile of Saddam Hussein and a dozen or so Iraqi bigwigs to, say, France, combined with the establishment of a semi-permanent UN weapons inspection regime.

Such an idea would probably have garnered a large support within the Security Council... The UN, together with the Arab League and countries like France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan would haveeffectively pressured the current Iraqi regime to leave the country. France could have guaranteed the despots a safe exile, if that was the price to be paid to save thousands of young Iraqi lives. The fact that the Arab League was also behind the exile plan would have offered a face-saving and "statesman-like" exit to Saddam, avoiding the impression that Iraq's sovereignty caved in under mostly white people's pressure.

Instead, US poodle Koizumi choose to expend his diplomatic efforts trying to persuade the non-permanent Security Council members to vote for the new US resolution which would have almost automatically authorized the use of force... Sad, really.

> I was quite negative.
Eh? That's my role!

Don't quit the Keizaidoyukai. Over time you will be able to get more members on your side. Just be patient and consider yourself a beachhead.

When can Lesser join?

I too suggest more patience and ask you to consider staying within the organization. There are so few of us who have your perspective into the highest echelons of Japanese business and that is truly special.

I agree that both the Keizaidokyukai and the Keidanren have been part of the problem and not an active part of the solution with respect to Japan's economy. However, Japanese business being what it is, I think it's more valuable to try to change organizations from within, than from outside. As frustrating as it may be, I think you have more impact from within and can be either a lightning rod for change or a role model for future younger member of a similar mind-set.

Bottom line, I think you have a unique opportunity and it would be a shame to walk away from it.

I know you are frustrated because you are impatient as I am knowing what changes are needed but not seeing it as quickly as you would like.
But I agree with the others stick with it for a little while longer. You have amazing energy and insight and bring with you a renewing motivation with your ideas and visions. Without that I'm afraid it will take even longer for things to improve if you are not a part of them.

Oh and I'm sending you some green kisses in honor of my irishness today

When the Keizaidoyukai published their paper on how to make Japan more inviting to foreigners, I read it with great enthusiasm and was somewhat amused by their statistics. They were generous enough to provide an English translation, but I recall feeling that it would be beneficial to disperse a slightly more polished version on a more international scale (such as to overseas groups who are interested in establishing a relationship with Japan in sending students/travelers here). I sent an email offering my assistance in polishing the document, with hopes of becoming more involved with the group seeing as I am of the younger generation, but apparently the email address they provide on the document is a black hole. They definitely won't get much done if they are not receptive to assistance and at least respond to outside emails...

Well, thanks for your comments everyone. I will keep trying, but it is really a time drain. It's time I could be spending elsewhere... Anyway, I'll give it another chance, but I'm still not that hopeful.

Matt, are you still interested doing this? They should be interested in your assistance. I can find the right person to contact if you are still interested.

Joi, in your recent Davos rant there was a sentence that especially struck me:

"in order to change the system we have to gain power, but the minute you start trying to gain power, you become part of the system".

I'd like to challenge the idea that it is absolutely necessary for some central figure(s) to gain power in order for change to happen. Perhaps there are alternate ways... is it not possible, by helping organization efforts, to channel the energy of people on the margins, who are losers in the current system, and help something new arise? (That alternatve power is not tied into the system - one could see it as dormant potential)

I think it might be a viable strategy, and if you were to adopt such a strategy, involvement in such bodies as the Keizaidoyukai would seem even less relevant.

Still you like their philosophical foundations. Perhaps you could pick that up and try to light it up with a younger/more diverse group of people?

Seb. I agree with you completely. I was stating the status quo on the panel. Currently, power is concentrated an all voices outside of the central voice are marginalized and are irrelevant to any meaningful decision making process under the current system. Methods to create new centers of authority/power outside of the system is the only way to crack it I believe. Having said that, being "inside" provides me with a tactical view that is helpful when planning now to crack it from the outside... It does come with its own risks however...