Risk Averse? Scared to Pilot a New Project? Learn the 3rd Principle of Rakuten


I was amazed when I saw this horse diving from a platform into a pool of water. The horse was braze – unlike most of us! Very often, whether it is a new initiative or a great proposal, we need to take the leap into the unknown, but we hesitate too long.

I don’t know how it is for you, but I always come across people who are extremely risk averse. They’ll never jump, no matter how great the reward!

Give them all proof in the world for a wonderful product, they say “it might look good on paper, but I doubt the CEO will like the idea.”  Bring them an absolute gem of proposal for a new profitable service, they’d shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes and begin finding reasons for saying no. “Oh, we’d be undercutting our best partners if we roll out this product!” What do you do with these people? How do you advance your projects with the organization? How do you establish a level playing field for new ideas?

I admire Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, for his approach to validating new products. This talented Japanese entrepreneur who created Rakuten, a solid analog of the Amazon e-commerce empire, is never afraid of breaking barriers. He first implemented a whole revolution at home, changing the culture of the company by imposing the English language across the organization, and demanding that the business is operated in English only. In Japan!

Imagine our average risk averse managers in this situation! They’d be on life support in no time.

I recommend reading Mikitani’s excellent book “Marketplace 3.0” to learn about Rakuten’s Five Principles for Success. They are:

1.      Always Improve, Always Advance

2.      Passionately Professional

3.      Hypothesize – Practice – Validate – Shikumika

4.      Maximize Customer Satisfaction

5.      Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!

The principle I like the most is called Hypothesize – Practice – Validate – Shikumika (“systemize”). What our risk averse managers are missing is putting out ideas into the world, prototyping fresh ideas and testing new concepts.

And yet these principles allowed Rakuten leap from obscurity into the global stage within just a few years!

Instead what we often see in large businesses or non-profit organizations is a complete isolation from innovative approaches. The path once taken becomes holy. Employees are discouraged from testing new initiatives. Following orders becomes an imperative.

Mikitani shares “if we are to be a company that constantly improves, we must have a spirit of experimentation.” It does not mean that all ideas will be perfect either. They won’t.  “If this happens we have not failed. We can be secure in our knowledge that we fully explored the possibility.”

However, if they idea is in fact viable, you swiftly move from the validation stage to shikumika, or systemization, allowing the organization to move one step up above the competition.

What is your experience with ideation in your organization? Please share your thoughts to continue our dialogue.



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