In Part Two of this interview series, Professor Jusuke Ikegami of Waseda University's Governance & Sustainability Research Institute joins Nobuyuki Tamaki, Project Leader of the Future Co-creation Initiative, in examining the distinctiveness and superiority of the Initiative that distinguish it from conventional leadership education.
Weak ties generate beneficial information
The Future Co-creation Initiative offers a platform for young Yokogawa employees to enjoy a frank exchange of opinions on the future with others both inside the company and beyond. According to Ikegami, “weak ties” is a key term in human relations. “Weak ties among individuals are known to spark innovation. Yet few places in today's world maintain these ties, which crisscross like a spiderweb, even though they are increasingly crucial for companies.”
First introduced in 1973 in a paper on social networks entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties,” by Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter, the concept developed that weak ties with acquaintances with moderate face-to-face encounters were more likely to generate beneficial information than strong ties between family members, romantic partners, friends, or colleagues.
Boundary spanners link relationships
Individuals' behavior does not change significantly based solely on input from weak ties. Rather, linking these multiple weak ties is what creates strong relationships which lead to major change, and the key person building these bridges is known as a boundary spanner.
Ikegami speculates that, generally speaking, more individuals tend to be skilled at moving internal forces, while fewer can leverage external forces effectively and organically. However, it is only when a boundary spanner comes into play, linking internal and external worlds, that a strong web of weak ties is spun to produce new value. It is precisely this individual who is indispensable to the Future Co-creation Initiative.
Ikegami continues: “Let's say that I am the boundary spanner linking business and academia for the Future Co-creation Initiative, whereas Tamaki functions as an intra-Yokogawa boundary spanner who also links companies. Tamaki connects employees from different departments while also connecting companies outside Yokogawa with each other, thereby expanding network boundaries.”
In addition, the Yokogawa firm itself could also be called a boundary spanner for the co-creative network.
Yokogawa's primary activity is developing B2B (business-to-business) support services, maintaining a neutral position in the value chain of diverse industries. In other words, as it operates in both B2B and B2C (business-to-consumer) sectors, it does not favor any one industry but enjoys a broad perspective of industry as a whole. It maintains a similar neutral position in the global business market without partiality to any one country, region, or community.
“For that reason, Yokogawa is ideally positioned to leverage a platform for open and free co-creative dialogue transcending corporate boundaries and neutrally linking diverse supporters and partners. This type of co-creative mechanism will become more critical going forward, but currently, few other Japanese companies are positioned to engage it,” assesses Ikegami.
The psychological safety to be yourself: individuality as a strength
The Future Co-creation Initiative seeks to help young leaders mature through open dialogue, a process which ultimately leads to innovation for a better society. Ikegami suggests that simply participating in the Initiative can be evaluated as human resource development toward becoming a future leader. The Future Co-creation Initiative is already providing this value with its emphasis on offering an environment that considers psychological safety.
“Conventional leaders are each characterized as one of three types: (1) those who listen intently to what others have to say, (2) those who impose their own ideas, and (3) those who strive to adjust themselves to the individuals around them. However, my own focus is on creating an environment of psychological safety in which people can openly engage in dialogue, because we need future leaders who can encourage individuals to speak up and speak freely.”
It is challenging to maintain a firm personal opinion, get others to converse candidly, and then create both consensus and directionality. However, this is a “facilitation skill” required of next-generation leaders and something they can learn while participating in the Future Co-creation Initiative.
In terms of psychological safety, Tamaki stresses the importance of mutual respect which allows each person to be themselves. For example, even if others urge you to speak your mind, positive dialogue cannot occur unless you sense their respect for your background and values.
“We gain strength and wisdom from those around us. When that is combined with our own individuality, we find strength and meaning in our existence. The Future Co-creation Initiative supports developing a growth mindset in young people by not forcing a value set on them and by freeing them from the unfortunate pressure of 'having to get average scores in all subjects' that is common in traditional Japanese schools. We hope Scenario Ambassadors will express themselves while collaborating with a diverse set of colleagues, ultimately becoming individuals who can benefit society,” explains Tamaki.
The Future Co-creation Initiative is based on three principles: (1) the Chatham House Rule, (2) Constructive Conflict, and (3) Contribution Mindset. The Chatham House Rule (1) is attributed to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a British think tank known as Chatham House, and specifies that information gleaned in any meeting may be used, but the identity and affiliation of the source and other participants must be kept secret (and not disclosed either implicitly or explicitly). Constructive Conflict (2) refers to dialogue within which individuals feel free to express their opinions and listen to each other with respect, even when their opinions clash. Contribution Mindset (3) stresses ongoing awareness of what one can contribute to a situation rather than what information or suggestions one can gain. While these three principles are not easy to put into practice, they help ensure an environment offering the psychological safety that enables lively dialogue to occur.
After listening to Tamaki, Ikegami offers advice to all Japanese aspiring to become leaders. “Those who do not like themselves cannot think about becoming leaders. In Japan, there are so many individuals who experience self-loathing. It is important for future leaders to strive to help members and followers who have no self-confidence or who dislike themselves to gain self-esteem. This is a major issue within Japanese society.”
Liking oneself and having a sense of self, respecting others, and repeatedly engaging in dialogue allows the community to transcend barriers and expand, creating something new. This cycle of chance encounters and new bonds with diverse entities ultimately leads to an innovative-rich future.
Part Three, the final installment in this series, will take a close look at the Green Phoenix Project, a joint effort of the Future Co-creation Initiative and Waseda University's Governance & Sustainability Research Institute.
Professor and Dean, Academic Affairs, Waseda Business School
(Graduate School of Business and Finance, Waseda University)
Research Member, Governance & Sustainability Research Institute
D.B.A. (Business Administration)
Hobbies: basketball, indulging his sweet tooth
Project Leader of the Future Co-creation Initiative
Hobbies: skiing, listening to classical music, travel
Future Co-creation Initiative Menu
Top page of Yokogawa’s “Future Co-creation Initiative”
Our collaborators discuss the value and meaning of “Future Co-creation Initiative” from various perspectives.
Introduction of our next-generation leadership development and a co-creation network beyond the scope of business.
Background and aspirations behind launching co-creative activities in an age without clear answers.
Future scenarios generated by young leaders of the future through scenario planning and co-creative dialogue.
Introduction of Scenario Ambassadors—representatives selected from each Yokogawa department enjoying growth and learning.
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