In our third and final installment of the series, we add the insights of Joel Baker Malen, Associate Professor and Research Director of Waseda University’s Governance & Sustainability Research Institute (GSRI). This installment examines the Green Phoenix Project (GPP), a joint industry-government-academia undertaking which developed into a broad learning community.
The Green Phoenix Project, a collaboration with Waseda’s Governance & Sustainability Research Institute
The GPP emerged in 2021 as a collaboration between Yokogawa and Waseda University’s Governance & Sustainability Research Institute. At the time, Jusuke Ikegami and Nobuyuki Tamaki envisioned: (1) deliberately taking time to launch the project, (2) maintaining a neutral stance, and (3) creating an open forum for a free exchange of opinions between businesspersons and academics, regardless of age or position. In other words, the GPP would function as a learning community platform integrating industry, government, and academia in common support of a more sustainable future.
As a result, outward expansion of Yokogawa’s internal Future Co-creation Initiative network allowed the GPP to become an open business platform for businesses and educational institutions from various fields.
Associate Professor Malen explains that GSRI was established with a dual purpose. “The first reason was to enable better sustainability research from an academic perspective. The second and more important reason was to deepen understanding of sustainability from a practical viewpoint through interaction with business practitioners and companies.”
Malen explains that academic research often fails to translate into business practice. This means that many valuable insights are generated in academia that remain completely unknown to the business world. It also explains the increasing importance of providing channels to transmit such insights and knowledge to the business world.
Malen expands on his explanation: “This transmission process must be a two-way street to make that collaboration between academia and the business world worthwhile. As management is an applied science, our research results must translate into business practices and help resolve challenges. Creating a joint forum allows current issues and useful knowledge to be shared between researchers and business practitioners.”
The reality is that academic knowledge about sustainability is not yet being used by companies. GSRI members hope that the GPP will serve to bridge the two worlds.
The “GPP circle”—a co-creative chain reaction
Ikegami and Tamaki originally planned to launch the GPP with a modest dozen or so “initial corporate members,” acknowledging that discussions with over 20 participants tend to be less effective and that discussion is diluted even further as the many participants are shuttled off into subcommittees. For the first three to four years after the launch, they focused on building the foundation and kept the number of members to a minimum.
Nonetheless, by July 2023, just two years after the project launch, the number of GPP corporate members had ballooned to 33 (including Yokogawa and Waseda University), revealing positive interest in the Future Co-creation Initiative and ties among external corporate partners.
“The GPP may expand into a global entity in the future. However, we have seen many examples of entities which grew without a proper foundation, only to fail. With this in mind, we had specifically hoped to create a solid foundation for the GPP,” explains Ikegami, adding two considerations they had at the time.
“First, the internal component. The GPP would need to reach a level of recognition, from within and without, based on achieving certain projected goals. And second, we needed to ensure that additional core members could come aboard to carry on the project sometime down the road. In other words, we needed to establish a format enabling new external members to step in and function smoothly even without the original core members. We expected it would take three to four years to fulfill those two considerations, to arrange the required conditions, before we could claim that the project’s foundation was firmly in place.”
Ikegami assesses that having more members than expected does not preclude establishing a solid foundation. Rather, success in spite of large numbers is like a “personal network” version of the proverbial straw millionaire*, as individuals interacting positively expand in a chain reaction.
*The Japanese folktale of the straw millionaire illustrates how a poor man bartering a single piece of straw ultimately completes a chain of successive trades which generate great wealth.
“The GPP is based on the shared networking between Yokogawa and GSRI, as both groups contribute toward a mutual goal in a complementary fashion. Those who come and are pleased with what they see in turn solicit others, creating what could be called ‘the GPP circle,’ a phenomenon of good people linked to other good people. We are certainly not about to turn away such members.”
Tamaki, on the other hand, sees GPP members as fellow travelers on a co-creative journey. “The GPP, which GSRI and Yokogawa co-established, cannot function on its own without the participation of others enjoying a shared exploration of new worlds. Of course, the GPP is not simply about status or attracting authority figures. Many current partners are management executives or leaders in fields ranging from sustainability and digitalization to innovation. They are all future-oriented thinkers and share the desire for a better future. These leaders tend to bring with them promising young individuals with the potential to become their successors. The idea is to foster a creative community by deepening dialogue which transcends business fields, generations, and expertise to co-create the future for society and industry. Our members seem to be enjoying this process.”
Actively promoting young people to halt Japan’s stagnation
Recent years have seen the gradual expansion of start-ups and other organizations featuring flat structures that encourage horizontal relationships. However, we have yet to see that trend penetrate the entire Japanese corporate world. It is rare for companies to offer platforms for open communication transcending barriers as do the Future Co-creation Initiative and the GPP, given the entrenched corporate culture being resistant to new approaches.
Ikegami cites Hofstede’s 6-D model* by way of explaining its cultural measurement framework. “According to the six dimensions laid out in Hofstede’s theory, Japan scores extremely high on the Power Distance Index (PDI). In other words, masculinity is prioritized within social authority, creating the assumption that men older than oneself, particularly authority figures such as physicians and politicians, are likely better human beings than oneself. However, the PDI score is low in Scandinavian countries and elsewhere, indicating little relationship between human superiority and factors such as age, social status, and occupation.”
*Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, advocated by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, depicts national culture by comparing six key indicators: (1) Power Distance, (2) Individualism vs. Collectivism, (3) Uncertainty Avoidance, (4) Masculinity vs. Femininity, (5) Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation, and (6) Indulgence vs. Restraint.
Ikegami warns that this long-standing overvaluation of the power and voice of Japan’s older males is one of the reasons for the nation’s current stagnation. “Young people have the creativity to save Japan. Yet that creativity is not fully leveraged in the workplace. The important thing is for managers and other seniors to provide opportunities for young people to play an active role and the support to ensure those chances are not diminished.”
Old-style Japanese companies find it challenging to incorporate young people’s opinions and ideas into management strategy. However, Yokogawa deems it important to empower young people, as CEO Hisashi Nara himself expresses: “We would like to incorporate a ‘reverse mentoring’ system in which young, mid-career employees serve as mentors.”
Leveraging diversity creates a sustainable society
Ikegami believes that the most important merit of the GPP is the chance encounters it affords assorted entities. The project mirrors the very essence of diversity, encouraging experts from differing fields to meet and collaborate to create something new.
“When it comes to the GPP, Tamaki and I have distinct yet synergistic roles. As a businessperson, Tamaki communicates ideas, moves people, and gets the ball rolling. As a scholar, I systematically verbalize his ideas and produce a coherent summary. That verbalized information then serves as the basis for Tamaki to develop further ideas. This generates repeated cycles of ‘positive loops,’ and both Joel (Associate Professor Malen) and I, representing different areas of expertise, generate mutual stimulation in much the same way.”
Let us conclude with a look at how the Green Phoenix Project got its name.
Ikegami gleaned a hint from a conversation he had with his 83-year-old mother. Upon her suggestion, he chose the phoenix as a motif to symbolize his hope for Japan to rise like a phoenix from its ashes through the creation of a sustainable society. He selected green—not the more typical red—as the theme color, focusing on sustainability.
The Future Co-creation Initiative and the GPP aim for the skies, extolling lofty ideals and a bright future.
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
Joel Baker Malen
Associate Professor, School of Commerce, Faculty of Commerce, Waseda University
Research Director, Governance & Sustainability Research Institute
Ph.D. (Strategic Management and Organization)
Hobbies: shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute) and hiking
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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