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Saybrook in Japan: An International Collaboration for Innovation in Applied Systems Science

By: Gary Metcalf | 11 Mar | 0 comments

 


I just returned from another trip to Japan, this time including a first visit to Osaka.  The first few days were spent in Tokyo, at the seventh workshop and symposium about service systems science, hosted by Prof. Kyoichi (Jim) Kijima from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.  The purpose of the event was “to describe visions of the society in ten years time, and to develop real ICT-based devices/products/services/networks to cope with challenges in an aging society to lead to a smart and sustainable society by co-creating new social value. In particular, Japan should be the lead market for overcoming [challenges of] an aging society...” 

Invited guests this year included: Dirk Helbing, Chair of Sociology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland; Cornelius Herstatt from the Technische Universitat Hamberg-Hartburg in Germany; and Marja Toivonen from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.  Familiar faces who have been working with Prof. Kijima since the beginning of these events included David Ing, retired from IBM, and Jennifer Wilby, from the University of Hull, UK – both also past-presidents of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS).

The connection for this research into service systems goes back to a presentation by Jim Spohrer from IBM, at the 2005 meeting of the ISSS.  At that time, Jim was head of IBM Research at the Alamaden facility.  Having sold its PC manufacturing business to Lenovo, IBM was heavily reliant on consulting services as a major portion of its business.  Needing to find ways to improve the productivity and profitability in services, it began to work on this concept of a science of services (initially, Service Science, Engineering, Management, and Design – see a paper summarizing the ideas by Spohrer and Kwan at http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=mis_pub .) 

The interest in service systems in Japan came from many of the same concerns.  Having been a manufacturing-based economy for decades, Japan found itself challenged by lower-cost labor in developing neighbor countries.  The need to restructure its economic base was apparent, but not simple to achieve.  The focus this year on aging societies comes from additional challenges, in that Japan has the highest percentage of older people, on average, in the world.  If it can develop innovations for improving the livelihood of people 80 years and older, it is possible that it could create new export markets as well.  Projections, for instance, are that China will have 100 million citizens over the age of 80 by the year 2050.  A looming question is the relative economic potential.  How high-tech, and how costly, can the innovations be, relative to the money available to pay for them? 

My visit to Osaka was to get acquainted with Prof. Toshiyuki Matsui and his colleagues at Osaka Prefecture University (OPU), following his visit to Saybrook’s RC in January.  OPU has recently received a grant from the Japanese government to develop a program for Systems-inspired Leaders in Material Science (SiMS).  The program will support 20 students per year from departments across OPU, with a focus on research into materials science.  Students will continue work on their degrees within their own departments, with additional courses including leadership and systems science, and an international internship, as parts of the new program. 

Similar to the work at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the program at OPU is prompted by a need for changes and innovation in Japan.  Academic positions for PhD’s are decreasing, while there is an increasing need for higher-level knowledge and expertise within industry.  One goal of the program, then, is to produce PhDs who can support greater innovation.. 

Nancy Southern, Chair of the School of Organizational Leadership and Transformation spent the month of June 2013 at OPU as a visiting professor introducing ideas on transformative leadership.  This association led to an interest in OPU and Saybrook partnering on program development and providing opportunities for faculty and student exchanges as a way to begin that partnership. My trip to Japan provided the opportunity for a visit to OPU and the delivery of a presentation to faculty and propective students on systems sciences.   What I learned again is how important language can be.  In this case, it was not just English to Japanese.  What I interpret as systems science, including theories and authors, was new to my Japanese colleagues. And we look forward to the opportunity to share our knowledge and understanding and  develop common frames of reference. 

The presentation led to hours of additional discussion that afternoon, evening, and the next morning.  With the larger goals for the program being innovation and entrepreneurship,there is a need for younger researchers to develop new, marketable ideas.  In addition to new, more highly engaged forms of education and learning, are approaches such as incubators, venture capital, more common in the U.S. and  

The potential of this program is tremendous and Saybrook is excited about this partnership and the opportunity to learn with our Japanese colleagues.  I talked briefly with some of the prospective students, two of whom were studying quantum computing and superconducting materials, respectively.  The selection of the first class of 20 students took place the weekend after I left Japan, and I am anxious to hear about them.  We are fortunate to have the chance to work with Prof. Matsui, and the SiMS program at OPU.  

Read other posts by Gary Metcalf

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