Are Some Countries Less Receptive To Crowdsourcing?

A Look At Japan

Technology is global, companies and individuals are globally connected, and crowdsourcing is a global phenomenon. Anecdotal evidence shows that Europe and the U.S. are well-populated with crowdsourcing participants (see also here), but that still doesn’t say much about potential differences in acceptance of crowdsourcing across the globe (that could be an entire thesis!). In this post, I’d like to focus on one country: Japan. Why? Because in a recent email conversation, Daisuke Kirihara, the CEO of Japanese crowdsourcing platform RedRock, told me…

Having browsed through your database, I couldn’t help noticing how underdeveloped Japan was in terms of creative crowdsourcing (Daisuke Kirihara)

Is this a reality? Is Japan really “underdeveloped” in terms of creative crowdsourcing? Is there something about the idea of crowdsourcing that could repell Japanese people? As a nation, Japan scores high in cultural tightness and uncertainty avoidance, two cultural constructs that may lower willingness to embrace change and to take risks… But let’s not get into these academic cultural indices, let’s be pragmatic. I did a little bit of research to find out more.

First, I browsed my mind

(In my mind) I found a couple of examples of Japanese crowdsourcing examples: Muji is a Japanese retailer which crowdsources new product ideas which have been proven to outperform internal ideas on the marketplace. Cuusoo is a Japanese partner of the Lego Group, with which the toy manufacturer launched a program for Japan in 2008 — now called Lego Ideas. ADK is a Japanese agency which partnered with crowdsourcing platform eYeka (disclaimer: I work there part-time) in 2011, thus being the first major marketing group to strategically invest in crowdsourcing.

Since then, the agency is actively using and promoting crowdsourcing for itself and its clients (see here, here or here). You can also watch the video below to see how ADK has used crowdsourcing in the last years. “Our clients might be relatively conservative, but surprisingly, their reactions to eYeka was very enthusiastic,” says Kenichiro Omori, head of the global business division of ADK. Watch him, and other agency executives, talk about crowdsourcing in this video:

How Japanese agency ADK utilizes crowdsourcing

Second, I browsed the crowdsourcing timeline

On the crowdsourcing timeline, which is like an extended and visually organized brain for me, I found quite a bit of contests from Japanese companies. Brands like Toyota, Honda, Canon, Sony, Nissan, Nintendo, and Panasonic (the latter has even crowdsourced on RedRock) have all sollicited the crowd’s creativity in the past. In fact, all 7 Japanese brands from the 2013 Interbrands Ranking are on the timeline.

A search on “Japan” in the timeline’s search tool even unearthed the “Just Do It Kimewaza Battle” campaign, a consumer-generated ad campaign in which Nike asked Japanese youth submit their own interpretations of what it means to be an athletic warrior. So, looking at that, both Japanese and non-Japanese companies have used crowdsourcing in the past.

Third, I browsed the interweb

Online, I found many occurences of Japanese crowdsourcing activity. Beside RedRock, I found Crevo, CrowdWorks, DesignClue, Gengo, Graphicker, Lancers, Mama&Crowd or Viibar, all platforms that crowdsource creative and non-creative work.

I found a case study of Kärcher Japan crowdsourcing the design of high-pressure cleaners, I even found a Japanese Crowdsourcing Association! I found that Japan has used crowdsourcing to detect dangerous levels of radiation after the Fukushima event, and I found that a French brand crowdsourced in Japan:

A contest for Orangina

Orangina launched in Japan in 2012, and in 2013, the brand leveraged the online social illustration platform Pixiv to crowdsource personified/human character ideas for Orangina. Among over 3,800 submissions (!), a total of 200 illustrations were chosen, and the winners were awarded a one-of-a-kind soda can with their characters printed on it, and the winning cans were displayed at several Japan-themed fairs, like the Japan Expo in Paris.

Fourth, I asked two Japanese experts

To find out more about the possible, yet not quite verified, hypothesis that crowdsourcing is underdeveloped in Japan, I turned to Japanese experts in the field. Not that this will allow me to get a definitive response, but I thought that some thought from people who know both Japan and crowdsourcing could be insightful.

Masaya Haraguchi

I asked Masaya Haraguchi, an experienced planner and now Department Director at ADK (if you have watched the embedded video above, you’ll know him), whether he thought Japanese people and companies were open to crowdsourcing.

He told me…

“Japanese companies are noticing that they should change their thinking because Japanese companies are increasingly challenged in the global marketplace. They do understand that only flexible and resilient organizations can make profits in this changing environment, and when they think about changing the structure of their existing operations, they see crowdsourcing as one realistic option. I believe that crowdsourcing is an effective tool for Japanese companies to reshuffle the existing business structures and exist in the global business field.”

So, crowdsourcing could be a source of competitive advantage on the global marketplace? Interesting. What does he think about Japanese people and their attitude towards crowdsourcing? Is it something that they can relate to?

“I think that Japanese people have a complex feeling about the emerging trend of crowdsourcing. On the corporate side, some employees are highly concerned about losing their jobs. For Japanese people, their companies are like a community where they spend most of their life, it’s not just place to earn money, so losing their jobs at the company where they worked for a long time is like dying.”

So, crowdsourcing can spark the same ambiguous feelings about work precarity in Japan than in other countries, which does make sense. It is widely known that the Japanese culture puts a major emphasis on long-term career building, work stability (or lifetime job security) and promotions based on seniority and ability. Crowdsourcing is a non-hierarchical, competitive, short-term mechanism which removes all borders. Could that be odd to Japanese people?

“Japan’s insular culture makes Japanese people rather hesitant to collaborate with others who live outside of Japan, mainly due to the language issue. Also, culturally speaking, Japanese people have a rather introvert personality. While, on one hand, it can foster a unique environment where some talented people can be really creative, on the other hand, it causes Japanese people to be vulnerable in the fierce competition of today’s marketplace. So [crowdsourcing] could become good training ground for Japanese creators to open up to the outside world.”
Toru Fujii

I also asked Toru Fujii, a Senior Creative Director at ADK, who shared his point of view about crowdsourcing in a a webinar hosted a couple of months back. His answer builds on one of Masaya’s points (I asked them independently), namely the fact that Japanese people have a rather introvert personality. He thinks that this is not always the case.

Some say that people are shy when showing their passion or talent in Japanese society, but in reality they are not. Think about the fact that Japan invented karaoke, or think about the many other artistic activities like music, dance, design or TV programs that the Japanese have been creating for more than 20 years. It is something remarkable when thinking about creativity in Japan.

I must say that everytime I see an episode of Takeshi’s Castle, or when I watch Yatta!, I’m frankly blown away. To many Western observers this can only be highly creative, at least, and it is still very entertaining. The whole world sings karaoke today, and manga fans are scattered around the globe too. What about crowdsourcing in business?

I think that crowdsourcing needs a bit of time to prevail in the Japanese advertising industry. But people have always been creative and expressive together in the fields of culture and entertainment, so I don’t believe there is a cultural disalignment per se.

So, is Japan less receptive to crowdsourcing?

I don’t think so.

Japanese entrepreneurs do create crowdsourcing start-ups, Japanese managers do launch crowdsourcing initiatives, Japanese people are highly creative in their own way, and they do participate in crowdsourcing too. So I think that Japan is not less receptive to crowdsourcing than any other country, even though some cultural aspects (like the preference for work stability) might indicate the contrary.

First prize winner of the ‘Stand for Japan’ contest, launched on eYeka (2012). The winner is Italian.

But this is not a research paper, just a blog post — my first on Medium. I just browsed online a bit, and asked people who knew crowdsourcing and promote it in their country. Cross-cultural differences in the adoption of crowdsourcing and open approaches to business are still under-explored, and little is known about possible differences in participation across cultures too.

There is plenty of work to do, and academia is aware of this (one of the topics of the 1st Annual World Open Innovation Conference this year is to explore “the moderating effects of organizational or national culture upon open innovation”), and there are still very few papers or books about it. There are also other countries to look at, more contradictions to uncover, and deeper investigations to conduct.

What do you think?