Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
"Wake up Japan!" says Dave McClure (fumijp.blogspot.jp)
48 points by hunvreus 1553 days ago | hide | past | web | 37 comments | favorite



>The speaker was Dave McLure, and he told the Japanese people to wake up, it's no longer the time for the Japanese to be sitting in the comfort zone, because this country is on fire. He tells people to become the nail that sticks out, move fast and break things, and don't be afraid to fail, because key factor to innovation is creativity, failure and iteration.

I hope this was part of a stand up comedy show.

Else this is cliche-country 101.

You hear better stuff in high school graduation speeches.


I do think there is a cultural component to innovation. My fascination is India. There is so much software development talent there. I know a lot of developers from India who participate in the success of international firms like Adobe, Google, and Microsoft, but I'm surprised that we've yet to see that sort of company, a real, international powerhouse of software, emerge from India.


>I do think there is a cultural component to innovation. My fascination is India. There is so much software development talent there.

Yes, but also so many mediocre, I-cant-believe-those-people-are-paid-programmers too.

Maybe the problem is that the most talented Indian programmers tend to go working outside India.

>I know a lot of developers from India who participate in the success of international firms like Adobe, Google, and Microsoft, but I'm surprised that we've yet to see that sort of company, a real, international powerhouse of software, emerge from India.

Dunno. Do we even see some "real international powerhouses of software" emerge from the US that often? You mention Adobe, Google and MS, but all three are over 12 years old, and Adobe and MS are actually more like 22 and 30 years old.

Not to mention that while MS and Adobe are "software powerhouses", Google is much less so. It might have a lot of talent nowadays, but 95% of its success lays in its initial foray into the search engine market, which was the work of a very small team, and owned much to network effects, ability to get funding and infrastructure etc, and much less to raw programming chops. And modern success stories like Twitter and Facebook are even less "software powerhouses" -- more like glorified web services, where most of the problems are related to scaling and administration of a large server base.


I agree so much. Somewhere in my head is the idea to start a company there, taking advantage of the local talent and the less expansive life costs.

I try to reason myself, saying there is so much rote learning that the applicants might not be very efficient or innovative, that the country is already too evolved and stable to offer many groundbreaking opportunity (Eastern Africa - like Kenya - that's where big opporunities are), that there is too much legal cruft and regulation.

But I just can't shake it off. If it doesn't work in NA, I know where I'll start my next project :-)


I agree. A part of me finds it slightly disturbing that his ego thinks he knows what's best for a country of a billion people.... It's one to tell Japanese programmers who work in safe jobs to wake up, it's another to tell the general Japanese population.



There was a reason I said a billion, instead of an exact number. Because I wasn't sure, and knew someone would make a case out of it. So "a billion" means "a lot of people".


I have been living in Japan for the last 3 years and there is also another Japanese saying. "出る釘は打たれる". Very well known in the West as "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down". This is a culture of uniformity and always taking the safe route and making sure to never lose face. It's not easy for someone to go the start-up way here.

At the same time the Japanese are really hard working and there are some Japanese companies out there which are trying to change the norm and I do sincerely hope they succeed.

To the question if start-ups can grow in Japan I believe so yes. But not in the same way and context as in the west and in the silicon valley. The culture is just too different and as a result so will the start-ups.

I have met some really bright people here and I have also come across many social barriers and rules that don't make sense (to my way of thinking). For the sake of the Japanese economy I hope that the culture slowly but steadily becomes more accepting of start-ups and entrepreneurship and encourages these bright people to create instead of smothering them.


When I was living in Japan, my mother would use the game Clue to teach English. The interesting cultural component we noticed was the Japanese players had a really hard time not sharing their cards with the other players. Clue, played cooperatively, doesn't really work that well!

I can't help but think that the American tradition of rugged individualism, though it brings other baggage, has helped create a good climate for startups and innovation.


How much of this risk aversion is due to aging demographics and a shrinking population? You could argue that the west has lost its appetite for risk since the early days of the baby boom as well.


+1, partially because a lot of people here explicitly conflate "cultures conducive to startups" with "Silicon Valley culture," which is nothing short of ridiculous.

The Japanese in particular have a very tough cultural hill to climb in order to remove the various taboos associated with startups and their potential downsides (as well as their non-conformist nature). Hopefully they get off the deflation-is-our-cure train at some point and start moving in this direction; it might help when addressing the other serious problems Japan is facing.


There is a famous saying in Japanese "七転び八起き" which means even if you fall 7 times, get up 8 times and move forward. But at the same time, the Japanese wants to do things well and organized, the citizens does not like failure, it's a country that fears shame.

I've been working in Korea for the past 4+ years, and they suffer from the same exact issues - the extreme shame of failure and unwillingness to "lose face."

Korea and Japan produce a lot of engineers and have amazing tech infrastructures even compared to the West, but they'll never be able to become a thriving startup ecosystem because the culture is just too different from that of Silicon Valley. You can relocate or attract new mentors and investors to a given place, but culture is one of those things that just does not change easily, if at all.


As a Brit, I've seen this cultural phenomenon in the UK too. Maybe I've just not been exposed to the right people, but "failure" is still a dirty word and it's rarely seen as a stepping stone to success.

Although I'm not all the way through it, I have a feeling this presentation was probably quite a shock to its live audience, and probably perceived as being quite tactless and impolite. I wonder what they actually thought of it and whether it effected any change in mindset.

Edit: I'm cringing all the way through this video. I'm not sure if it's a cringeworthy video or whether it's exposing my own fear of being embarrassed!


Londoner here. I think we're closer to Silicon Valley than we are to Japan. I've been working on/around my startups for almost a year now, and despite having not having anything substantial to show yet, get a lot of interest in my work, as well as being pursued all the time to go back into lucrative software contracts.


> I've seen this cultural phenomenon in the UK too

Anecdata or not, thank you for standing up and being counted. I've seen it too :-)


> the culture is just too different from that of Silicon Valley

If there's one defining attribute of Japanese culture, it is its willingness to absorb and syncretize outside influences. The most recent examples are the Meiji Restoration and the post-WW2 transformation. So I don't think you can write off Japan just yet.


While those where impressive changes that doesn't mean the culture and societal structure they have today is similar to those times.

Simply stated they have the lowest birth rate of any first world nation, we don't have to write them off, they are doing quite fine fading into the sunset on their own.


> While those where impressive changes that doesn't mean the culture and societal structure they have today is similar to those times.

The point is that they can change their culture and society at a particularly rapid clip, so that is moot.

> Simply stated they have the lowest birth rate of any first world nation, we don't have to write them off, they are doing quite fine fading into the sunset on their own.

I don't understand why having a decreasing population is inherently seen as a bad thing. For comparison, Japan has 1/3rd the arable land of Germany[0], yet it has 1.5x the population[1]. Japan is overpopulated - now it's just going to an equilibrium population size.

0: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=arable+land+%7C+japan+v...

1: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=population+%7C+japan+vs...


Declining population in this case is part an actual problem, which is an aging population.

That's not necessarily a problem either, but in this case it definitely is -- as it also is in the US -- because the elderly are still retiring and still depending on social security programs.


"culture is one of those things that just does not change easily, if at all"

No way. Cultures change all the time. It's just so gradual you barely notice if you don't have a good grounding in history.


>> the extreme shame of failure and unwillingness to "lose face."

Apologies in advance, for it pains me to generalise like this, but in my view, you have accurately summed up "asiatic culture" in that one line. :-/ (No, I'm not being sarcastic.)


This is why I'm amused by the constant prognostications that X country (in the 80s Japan, today China) will become the next global economic superpower / hegemon. There's certainly plenty of room for massive economic growth and technological advancement, but to become the next engine of economic vitality for the world requires cultural changes which countries like Japan and China are just not ready to make. The economic future belongs to the inventors and innovators. To disruptors and revolutionaries. To people who can persevere with novel ideas through the difficult stages while the world mocks, dismisses, jeers, or fails to understand long enough to see the idea reified in a way that is finally accepted and pioneers entirely new sectors of industry.

That's the startup mindset, and it's one that has become ever more accepted in the US but is still frowned upon elsewhere.


> That's the startup mindset, and it's one that has become ever more accepted in the US but is still frowned upon elsewhere.

I'd say the Chinese are pretty famous for innovation, granted, when they invented the stuff that has now become ubiquitous (gun-powder, paper, printing) they didn't do it using startups, which I think only shows that you don't need startups in order to invent stuff. What I do think will hold China down is their one-child policy.


East Asia was an economic, scientific, and industrial leader for much longer than the West: several thousand years as opposed to about 300. In fact, it's likely that China would have undergone the Industrial Revolution around 1200 had it not been disadvantageously exposed to the "Steppe Highway"-- the reach extending from Hungary to Manchuria that made it relatively easy for nomads on horseback to terrorize agricultural or urban people. Each time China began to assert itself industrially, it would become rich enough to be attacked, and that would destabilize any industrialism that had formed.

What's interesting about the Chinese story, though, is where innovation came from. The examinations and civil service hierarchy played a role, but the groundbreaking cultural accomplishments always came from the "outer elite", not the high-ranking mandarins. The inner elite was stodgy and complacent, just like modern corporations with MBA culture. The artistic and scientific accomplishments people remember now tended to come from people who were exposed to the ideas of the scholastic elite, but never got into the inner circle.

I think there's a lesson here, for modern Asia (Japan's cultural exports come from people poorly regarded by that country's elite) and the West.

Venture-funded startups were an outer elite in 1975, but they've been co-opted by the inner elite. Silicon Valley, when it was a genuine outer elite, produced amazing technological advancements. Now it's just a side-show for MBAs to pop into (over the heads of engineers, as unnecessary VPs earning 10 times the equity) when they feel like doing something different. I don't know where the outer elite is now. I know that I'm probably in it (whether I intend to be or not) but, if so, we're in a nebulous state of geographic and cultural diaspora.

The interesting question is why innovation must come from an outer elite. The process seems to be like this: the inner elite sets values (scholastic achievement) judged to be socially beneficial but, at some level, organizational politics outclass those values in terms of who actually gets in. In fact, the interface between outer elite and inner elite seems to be based on that: the outer elite is as far as one can go based on the values set by that elite; the inner elite still comes down to "old style" social scarcity, connections, and favor-trading. The consequence of that is that the outer elite exemplifies those values more than the inner one and, over time, delivers more of value. I don't know how to turn this into anything actionable, but it's an interesting observation.


Your observations here are very similar to Venkatesh Rao's blog post on "Return of the Barbarian". He has a terrible way of redefining words to suit his own meanings for whatever narrative he is on at that moment, but I was reminded of that post through out my reading of this reply.

P.S: Both of you agree on one thing: As I recall, "I don't know how to turn this into anything actionable, but it's an interesting observation." was his conclusion as well :-D!


The OP and this thread (except for a few comments) could be summarized as follows:

[barely testable social theory or hypotheses] [supported by a cliché or historical anecdote].

In my humble and down-to-earth opinion the main takeaway from any talk about "cultures" or "societies" or any other similar human-like concepts (did you notice that we often talk about "cultures" like they are living people?) is the idea that certain traits (fear of failure in this case) could impact my own performance. The next logical step is to modify something relevant in my live to test the effects and adjust behaviour based on this information if needed. Repeat this or just walk by if there are no effects present.


McClure continued: "You're simply the best. Better than all the rest. Better than anyone -- anyone I've ever met." standing ovation


I'm not sure I've learned anything from this video or comments. Nothing is really backed up.

Even the speaker admits they are a VC who's not rich.

Yes westerners all think the Japanese have a culture with problems, but of course we do, I really need some sort proof or a speaker who has proven themselves.


You may or may not like DML's antics, but you can't say the guy doesn't have some balls.


McClure


There is a famous saying in Japanese "七転び八起き" which means even if you fall 7 times, get up 8 times and move forward. But at the same time, the Japanese wants to do things well and organized, the citizens does not like failure, it's a country that fears shame.

Are we really that different? In the US, we seem to have this sense of superiority on this issue, but I think our tolerance of risk is paper-thin. It's superficial.

To get deeper into it, I find VC-istan to be especially hypocritical, because while it takes what seems to be a progressive attitude toward business failure, it's also a world in which, if you're not a C*O by 35 and an investor (read: rich and semi-retired) of some sort by 42, you're written off entirely as a useless human being. How, exactly, is this supposed to encourage resilience? If anything, that's the exact mentality that created the stodgy risk-aversion of these blue-chip corporations VC-istan considers itself ready to replace.

VC-istan is a postmodern corporation in which "tech companies" are disposable, because they're mere sub-projects of the meta-company. "Founders" are nominally independent project managers and investors are the real executives. What seems like a tolerant attitude toward business failure is actually the (probably beneficial, but cutthroat) willingness of this meta-company's executives (investors) to cancel projects for a variety of reasons.

Getting people to "wake up" isn't about changing one culture. The problem is that human nature is to pick leaders based on apparent success, and to ostracize failures. That works well in groups of 20 individuals that are barely surviving-- that is, our evolutionary frame-- but is not what you need in order to design or encourage a rational technological economy.


You're correct that US culture is more risk averse than it claims to be, but it's worth noting that Japan is MUCH worse than the US when it comes to risk aversion. Bankruptcy affects your entire family and is almost irrecoverable. "Entrepreneur" is a dirty word. Overwork is insane: 10-12 hour work days are frequently the norm, and getting fired once or expelled in high school can essentially ruin your career.

It's way better in the US. Personally, I dropped out of high school and have had 4 jobs in the last 4 years-one of which I was fired from (not laid off.) But I'm fairly good at what I do, and in the US my experience allows me to have a pretty awesome job, while in Japan I'd be basically unemployable.


>>In the US, we seem to have this sense of superiority on this issue, but I think our tolerance of risk is paper-thin. It's superficial.

Hmmm... Judging by the overall comments so far, it seems every culture seems to has an acute (and accurate) sense of its own thin-skinnedness that another cultures' perception of them. Most of the points you make is validated by another article making rounds in the first page here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5270460 From the article linked to that thread:

When I was raising my first round, it fell apart because an A-list investor who had given us a verbal commitment backed out. He did this because he had heard from his friend, who I had went out for beers with, said that we were struggling and unsure of what we were doing.

>> The problem is that human nature is to pick leaders based on apparent success, and to ostracise failures.

Given that you've framed it like so, that nails it then? Status quo as it is now, is not going to change anytime soon! Let's stop wasting our time and get on with the rest of our lives, doing whatever it is that we are currently doing, eh? :-| [wry smiley]

P.S: Not being sarcastic, or picking on you in my reply. Hope that comes out clear :-/


These problems are easy to diagnose and hard to solve.

The problem with VC-istan is collusion. As a group, they decide who's hot, who's credible, and who's a loser. Rather than competing with each other, VCs communicate in all sorts of inappropriate ways and make these decisions as a herd. This means there isn't a fair market. The powerful people on one side have found it more advantageous to be in each others' good graces than to compete with each other, which would favor people they don't care about.

One thing I've learned having studied history is that the best thing for smart people is to create a cleavage within the elite. The Protestant Reformation was a time of high social mobility for intelligent people as the elites of Europe lost cohesion due to the Catholic/Protestant division. Henry VIII was detested by other nobles in large part because he promoted intelligent commoners (social mobility) to high offices who could assist him in his break from the Church.

Then, there's the Cold War. Just think of how much scientific progress exists because of this hairline fracture in the world's ruling class.

Powerful people want to glom together and form a clique at the top. The best thing that can happen for smart people is for one half of the powerful people to have a mortal hatred for the other half, so this can't happen. As the elites destroy each other, they'll hire smart people from without and that generates social mobility and a resource transfer away from the entrenched elite and toward talented people.

If you want to save VC-istan, here's how to do it. Randomly assign all of the top 500 players to Red and Blue Teams. Team identity follows a person, not a firm. It's inflexible. Whichever team makes more money in the next 15 years owns all the personal financial assets (houses, bank accounts) of the other team. Even if Blue only wins slightly, it means the Reds lose all their financial assets. I don't make this as a serious suggestion, but that will get some genuine technology made.


What you say is hardly the case. Top 8 VC firms compete with each other incredibly hard for the best deals. The top-8 as a group make up 80% of all venture capital returns so maybe that should tell you something about their decision making criteria.

The best VC firms do pick and choose what to invest in, and this is based only on what they think will make them the most money. Perhaps that isn't equivalent to "technological progress" but one can hardly call it collusion.


You should really read some of the replies from the other HN thread I placed in my reply above. It does a good job of removing the halo effect around VCs and their "decision making criteria"

>> The top-8 as a group make up 80% of all venture capital returns so maybe that should tell you something about their decision making criteria.

Perhaps, this is one possible explanation to that? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5271839

The problem is there is so much 'dumb' money out there 'smart' money is just noise. If you have 50 million to invest then investing 200k in 250 company's at random is a perfectly reasonable choice. And 50 million is a tiny slice of a ridiculously big pie, people spend close to that doing due diligence on really big deals.


You make some interesting observations, michael.

But there is a small voice in the back of my head repeating " Pareto suggested that even if the wealth was redistributed equally to everyone in society, in a very short time it would revert to the 80/20 distribution". (reversion to the mean -- whatever that mean is!)

Now, why is that true? You provide the answer yourself "Powerful people want to glom together and form a clique at the top." That will be very much a given! So how does one bell the cat... Your CTF analogy is a bold thesis, and I agree with your final assertion/outcome, but we both know it is not doable.

>> One thing I've learned having studied history is that the best thing for smart people is to create a cleavage within the elite.

History is definitely replete with examples that assert to the above, but in the end it is the classic "tying the bell to the cat" stalemate!

a) Who will do it? and, b) How will they do it.

Time to whip out Sun-Tzu, Arthashastra and The Prince for inspiration then ;-)




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: