In the 1980s, Japan was hailed as an “economic miracle”. There were best-selling books such as Ezra Vogel’s “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America” and SONY President Akio Morita’s “Made in Japan”. American electronic and automobile manufacturers were caught by surprise by the success of Japanese manufacturers.
One thing that became apparent on visits to Japanese factories was that they used impressive manufacturing robots. American manufacturers raced to catch up. They invested in expensive robotics. This was done without looking at any of the less-visible aspects of the Japanese miracle. The investment in robots was an increased expense that did not yield the ultimate competitive benefits in terms of quality or productivity that justified the expense incurred.
I attended a conference in China where one keynote speaker from a large Western multinational corporation described their approach to innovation. We heard about the more than 100 years of history, the thousands of employees and the billions spent on R&D. Then we heard about the big plan for innovation. A team would be given 5 weeks to focus on bringing innovative projects. They would be given beanbags.