Period of Report:
1 January 1996 to 30 September 1997
Earl H. Kinmonth
School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield.
Amount of Award:
Aims and Methods of Research:
The primary purpose of this project was to examine the role of engineers, scientists, technicians (technologists) in technology transfer. This study emphasised the social, cultural, and educational context for technology transfer both within and without the firm. This is in contrast to most existing research that has focused almost exclusively on issues such as licensing, intellectual property rights, and other macro issues. This study was more micro in orientation, and tried to identify the factors that cause individuals and firms to be open to new technology, capable of acquiring it, and successful in transplanting it. The study was explicitly comparative with primary emphasis given engineering in Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Highlights of the Research and Important Findings:
The most important preliminary finding not anticipated in the original proposal is that Japanese firms, policy makers, opinion leaders, and pundits are currently questioning major elements of the Japanese corporate culture that have heretofore been seen as major contributors to Japanese technological prowess. Features of the Japanese corporate structure such as "lean manufacturing" and "lifetime employment" are being subject to severe scrutiny. After years of chiding the US and the UK for not studying Japanese models, Japanese commentators and policy makers are now looking carefully at restructuring (reengineering) in the US and deregulation in the UK. There is a growing sense in Japan that current Japanese patterns will not be effective in dealing with new growth areas such as multi-media nor will they be effective in dealing with the increased competitive capabilities of firms in countries such as Korea and Taiwan and in some cases the US and the UK.
This recent development does not negate the original emphasis of this study on technology transfer in Japan and UK manufacturing. Too many studies have shown UK manufacturing to be too far behind current Japanese standards to accept some facile notion that the era of Japanese leadership has passed. It does, however, add a new dimension involving an emphasis on identifying the mechanisms by which Japanese have identified problems and changed their organisation and behaviour to meet changes in the external environment.
Publications [and presentations]:
"Engineers and Economic Performance: Issues in Cross National Comparison." Occasional Papers: The London Office of Hosei University. No. 12 (1995).
"Engineers and Economic Performance: Issues in Cross National Comparison." Economics Department, Osaka University (6 June 1997).
"Technology Change and Its Impact on White Collar Employment in Japan and the UK," presentation at Nichibunken [Institute for the Study of Japanese Culture], Kyoto, 13 November 1995.
"Japanese Engineering: Myths and Realities," presentation at SPRU, University of Sussex, 8 December 1995.
Engagement with Potential Research Users:
While in the UK I sought to attend all presentations by returned participants in the Engineers to Japan Scheme, all presentations in the Daiwa-Japanese Foundation / Japan Society seminar series, all public programmes of the Anglo-Japanese Economic Institute, all public programmes of the UK-Japan High Technology Industry Forum, and any other public programmes in which UK-Japan economic or technological exchanges were the primary theme. These venues were used to build a network of contacts both as informants for this project and to publicise its existence.
Preliminary discussions about venues and mechanisms for publicising results have been carried out with Mike Hobday at SPRU, Richard King at the DTI, Osamu Fujimaki of the Engineers to Japan Scheme, and with current and past participants in EJS.
(ii) During the past 9 months I have been engaged in background reading and source collection using a combination of conventional and on-line resources. While in Japan I have attended various seminars on engineering and technology transfer issues at Tokyo Institute of Technology and other area universities.
(iii) The principal difficulty in pursuing this research was inadequate time on the ground in Japan. Because of reduced funding for subsistence in Japan (relative to what was sought in the initial application), trips to Japan were limited to six weeks or less. Each six week trip required several weeks of preparation and at least a week of settling in and a week of return preparations. Combined with Japanese holidays and other factors, this meant that each six week trip to Japan yielded only thirty working days or less at a high cost in both time and money.
A second problem was the much greater than anticipated difficulty in finding a research assistant with both a knowledge of Japanese and a knowledge of the UNIX operating system. This prevented the development of a planned interactive survey on Japanese engineering. The one candidate with the requisite skills because so busy with his own consulting firm that he ended up abandoning my project. I hope eventually to do this portion of the study myself.
Finally, as noted on my previously submitted request for an extension, the slow down in the Japanese economy and the rapid rise in the competitive capabilities of South East Asian firms has caused a rethink of many aspects of engineering in Japan. This has increased the amount of material to be digested and increased the degree to which efforts must be made to find out what Japanese firms are actually doing versus what they are talking about doing, and how actual practice might change in the future. "Restructuring" and "re-engineering" are even more popular as "buzz words" in Japan than they are in the US. It is not an easy task to separate rhetoric from substance.
(iv) Two substantial changes had to be made in the proposed methodology. As noted above, it proved impossible to find a reliable research assistant with the necessary language and software skills to produce a bilingual interactive web site. Second, fewer practising engineers were interviewed than originally planned. The cost in time to arrange meetings and to travel to scattered sites in the UK proved too high relatively what could be learned. In addition, it proved quite difficult to develop lists of UK engineers with experience in Japan. Nevertheless, I hope to eventually build the bilingual interactive web site on my own and will continue to interview UK and Japanese engineers on an opportunistic basis.
(v) Subject to the modifications noted above, the material gathering phase of the project was completed as planned. It is difficult to make any statement of how the results of the project will be disseminated because, as of this writing, I am in Japan and may be here for another 12-15 months. This will, on the one hand, give me further opportunity to work on the project at my own expense, but on the other hand, it will delay the time at which I could share the results in the UK with practising engineers. Efforts at publication will, of course, be aided by being in Japan with easy access to Japanese sources and informants, and I will be using lecture and teaching opportunities in Japan to develop publications based on this project.