Any game-changing invention, any transformative organization, will have a long-term plan, a strategy designed for success, and the kind of leadership that inspires and innovates. But it starts with a single spark, a vision that is built to stand the test of time and battle the hardships that threaten to end the journey.
A visionary leadership evaluates the present to build a better future, devising strategies that ensure its survival through adversities and losses. That one spark of an idea that triggers a vision is often prompted by a necessity, requiring you to think out of the box. This unconventional thinking often takes us on an adventurous journey, with innovation in one step, and accurate execution on the other.
Though battling against market competition in the recent years, Sony Corporation has been synonymous with high-end gadgets for more than half a century. Under the leadership of Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, the company has gifted many firsts to the world, not because of the abundance of revenue or market researchers, but because of that single spark.
Adversities often have the ability to bring out the best in people. Adversities create necessities and out of these, the will to create, and adapt, and transform is born. When the Second World War ended in 1945, Japan was left with in aftermath of the most devastating destruction wrought on any civilian population – the atomic bombs dropped in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It might have seemed that Japan as a nation would take decades to recover, but Ibuka and Morita reduced that time with their grit and their will.
In the same year the war ended, Masaru Ibuka, a defense contractor, established Tokyo Telecommunication Research Institute (Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujo), a company that focused on radio repairs. He was operating out of the third floor of a bombed-out department store when, in May 1946, he joined hands with former naval lieutenant, Akio Morita and created a new business called Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation (Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K.). The company’s focus was telecommunications equipment.
This new organization was established with a capital of 190,000 yen (approximately $1500 today) and incorporated the entire staff of Ibuka’s company.
They wanted to make advancements in the field of technology and pull their country out from the despair and damage it was suffering. They decided to make Japan’s first tape recorders, and since resources were limited, they cut mimeograph paper with razor blades for this purpose.
They started small, with resources that were hard to come by; food itself was scarce in the wake of the war. But Ibuka and Morita had a vision, and they were willing to take a gamble to see if they can make something out of it. That the gamble paid off is a different story – one of strategies and management philosophies – but Sony started with that vision in the midst of a disaster.
Tokyo Telecommunications Corporation dedicated to building many of Japan’s firsts – a power megaphone, a magnetite-coated, paper-based recording tape, and the country’s first magnetic tape recorder. What put them on the global map is their transistor radio, which conquered the American market. Akio Morita always had the vision of expanding to the American market because unlike back home, the American public was keen on trying out new things; they had the interest and they had the money.
Again, it wasn’t easy. Initially, Morita faced rejection from every potential distributor he met in the US, one of whom was willing to sell the radio under his own brand. Despite being offered a sum that was more than Sony’s capital, Morita was unwilling to sacrifice his brand name.
Morita’s vision of expanding his brand name to the West was so steadfast that he refused to settle for monetary compensation, even under pressure from the board. Once again, there was adversity in the number of rejections he faced, and there was temptation to settle for the second best opportunity, but his dream was more important to him, and his faith in this dream and himself played a crucial role in the company’s eventual success.
Ibuka and Morita were determined to make Sony an international brand and that involved giving the brand name an international feel. Tokyo Telecommunications Corporation was renamed to Sony Corporation, a small price to pay for a bigger dream.
It’s the willingness to go the extra mile, to travel untrodden paths in the journey towards success that makes the journey a success. Success itself might be so comfortable as to induce complacency and that is a dangerous habit to pursue.
Morita wanted to build Sony’s presence in America, to study the market and the Western culture to be successfully able to build new products to match their hitherto unknown requirements. In 1963, he, along with his entire family, relocated to the United States, going the extra mile, quite literally.
It was an ambitious decision, but Morita, who would later come to be known as one of the most influential entrepreneurs, was determined and dedicated to doing everything he could for the success of his venture. He took up the challenge and he solved it efficiently, with wonderful results to show for it.
Morita observed that the American public was addicted to music; they were in the habit of carrying their heavy boom boxes everywhere they went, including to the beaches. This, combined with his own personal love of listening to music while on long travels, gave birth to Sony’s biggest contribution to every single individual on the planet: the Walkman. Thus was also born the on-the-go music mania that has changed our very way of traveling and time-filling.
To fill a requirement that exists in the shadows without being apparent can be fulfilled only by being observant and thinking innovatively. Morita took this innovation a step further. The technology behind the Walkman proved too difficult to duplicate for Sony’s competitors, and it was done after more than two years, by which time, it had reaped mountainous profit and a loyal customer base.
Once you have found success in a field, build yourself on that success. Sometimes, visionaries will take a leap of faith, which might seem ambitious. But what can act as a safety net in this leap is pure old-fashioned research. Calculated risks can be taken after assessing the company’s strengths, weaknesses, revenue, and potential. This can help in the diversification of a business.
Sony Corporation stepped into Hollywood in 1989 by acquiring Columbia pictures, conquering the international entertainment industry as Sony Pictures Entertainment, the largest US acquisition by a Japanese company until now. It was ironical, and a little like Karma, when, albeit in a different fashion, Japan conquered the US, the nation that had ravaged its cities almost 40 years ago.
Sony diversified into mobile phones, gaming consoles, television, and even robotics, proving that sometimes, dreams must be let loose to fulfill themselves.
Innovation leads success. Morita’s secret strategy was always introducing a product which never existed before to meet a demand that existed only vaguely. In his own words, “Our plan is to lead the public with new products rather than ask them what kind of products they want. The public does not know what is possible, but we do.”