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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!




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