Monday May 12, 2008

Japan Inside China

Very interesting. A little Japanese inside China -- [i18n-discuss] Solaris Teacher Training and Sun University Tour- Dalian. Next time I visit China, I have to spend some time in Dalian to explore this China-Japan connection. I first read about this in a Tom Friedman column, but it's not talked about that much here in Japan. Gotta check it out.

Monday Jan 07, 2008

Japan and Friedman`s Globalization 3.0

After thinking more about this conversation on globalization, I re-read Tom Friedman`s The World is Flat over the winter break. The book is out in paperback, of course, and Friedman calls this updated and expanded version "3.0" in the introduction. It`s about 650 pages, but it`s a really quick read. Especially the second time around. Friedman tells lots of excellent stories that take you right along on his own personal journey around the world. There is a lot of talk of China and India, of course, but Japan comes up from time to time, too. And that`s what hit me this time around. Japan.

Some brief background first. Friedman breaks down the history of globalization into to three gigantic meta categories -- countries, companies, and individuals. Basically, globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. And we are just now entering 3.0, the era of individual globalization, where everyone who has access to technology (that`s Friedman`s "flat-world platform") has to compete with everyone else in the world who has access to technology. Now, it took 500 years of globalization to get here, but that`s where we find ourselves now. And I think the key point to the book is that globalization 3.0 is very, very different from globalization 1.0 and 2.0 because 3.0 is based on, in part, the individual. That`s where Japan comes on.

Although Japan comes up from time to time while Friedman discusses globalization 2.0, I could find very few (if any, actually) references to Japan and globalization 3.0. Friedman goes to great lengths to talk about how individuals can compete in the new flat world, but that discussion seemed to be focused primarily on the United States and Western Europe and the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, India, and China. That`s when it hit me that Japan seems vulnerable under Friedman`s theory since Japan is not based on the concept of the "individual" at all and it`s certainly not an emerging market. It`s all about "groups" here, and individuality is somewhat rare among the average Japanese -- certainly among the millions of workers that make up corporate Japan in and around Tokyo. I didn`t think about this when I read the book the first time since I hadn`t lived in Japan yet. It`s obvious now, though.

So, can Japan, which is famous for its vertically integrated corporations (the exact opposite from Friedman`s open and horizontally flat world), compete in globalization 3.0? How would "groups" of people even recognize this as a problem? And how would these groups of people transform Japan`s various corporate global supply chains into an economy that recognizes individual global competition? This is not as great a problem for the west since most western cultures are based much more on the concept of individuality -- especially the United States. Friedman hints at this cultural issue when he quotes various Chinese leaders who recognize this very problem in China. China (and Korea, for that matter) shares with Japan some of these East Asian characteristics of groups. But China seems to be changing specifically to compete on all levels -- country, company, and individual. That third part is most fascinating here in East Asia. Will China pull it off? Will Japan recognize the issue and engage down at that level?

Some Friedman flat world videos here at MIT and here on Charlie Rose and here at the NYT.

Friday Dec 28, 2007

Stiglitz and Friedman on Globalization

Here's an interesting conversation between Thomas Friedman, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, and Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, discussing globalization -- Transcript: A TimesSelect/TimesTalks Event on Globalization. It's from April of 2006, but it hardly feels dated at all. The entire word is discussed, of course, and it's fascinating. But I think India and China probably grab the lion's share of air time.

At one point in the conversation, Friedman talks about getting three things right -- education, infrastructure, governance -- in the context of how some countries are modernization and globalizing more effectively than others. From Friedman:

"China and India, China in particular, actually increased the pace of its reform in a lot of those areas. So Mexico went from being right on our border to a thousand miles away, and China went from being thousands of miles away in some ways to right on our border. But -- And I’ll just finish this one point because this is important. People have to make choices. Governments have to make choices. Priorities. Look at India. Today they’re about, I think, 70,000-80,000 Indian foreign students in the United States. There are roughly a similar amount from China. I think there are about 10,000 from Mexico. Those are also choices societies are making in terms of how to get educated, what language to learn and how to become a competitor and a collaborator on this platform. So you have to -- Development is a choice. It’s not some inevitable thing. You have to choose to bring your infrastructure, your education and your governance to the level where you can access this whole new technology platform."

They are obviously talking about why Mexico has not fully realized the benefits articulated by proponents of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). And although that issue is certainly complex, what shoots out at me is actually a country not mentioned in this 15,000 word conversation: Japan. Why is Japan not mentioned in the context of globalization? I think it has a lot to do with the quote I cite from Friedman: choices. Both government and individual. Now, many would argue that what India and China are experiencing is simply the result of their economies rapidly growing due to modernization and that Japan is already a mature market. Heck, many at Sun make that argument to me when I bring this up. Sorry. I don't buy it. That's only a small part of the issue. The biggest part is attitude. China and India want to globalize. You can read it in their political rhetorical can you can hear it and see it where you go there. Japan, on the other hand, shows little interest in globalizing compared to some of its biggest neighbors in Asia. Also, the "mature market" bit falls apart when you look at the United States the last two decades. To say that mature markets can't grow and change and continually modernize is just wrong. It's all comes down to attitude. Well, ok, it's more complex that than, of course, but that's where it starts.

Anyway, check out Stiglitz and Friedman. Very interesting stuff. Extremely complex, though. Can you predict where things will go? I can't. It's very cool working at a global company right at the foot of two massively emerging markets, though. There is such huge potential throughout all of the Asia Pacific region. 
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