Traveling to Japan was a personal highlight. The food, the people, the culture everything amazed me like no other place I ever visited. Simultaneously, there are many professional lessons I have learned during my time there. If I have to give a title to this trip it's: Japan, the capital of real life UI/UX.
This led me to think of three key lessons entrepreneurs can learn from the unique style, culture and magic that is Japan:
1. Be customer facing - The architectural structure of public spaces, the system of public transportation, the markets, every restaurant (big or small), every shop and literately every experience in Japan is customer facing and human centered. The touristic experience there is the best real life example I've ever seen of urban human centered design.
Innovation literature from Business Model Generator to Running Lean is full of case studies of startups with beautiful products and great tech which fail because of gaps in problem-solution fit, product-market fit and business model fit. Why? Because they embrace a product/technology first approach instead of a human centered one. Their hubris makes them fall in love with the wrong end of the puzzle. It's important for you to fall in love with your product but it's much more important for your customers to be in love with it.
One great example of this is a small and very popular Onsen (the Japanese version of a sauna) in Kyoto. The Onsen I visited was meticulously clean, anything one might have forgotten at home was sold on the spot (in its most basic form), the rules of engaging others were clear, everyone respected each other’s space and time. It was clear that this place has both new and loyal customers, locals and visitors yet the user experience and user interface (in Japanese) successfully pleased all their visitors.
2. Create order in extreme chaos - Tokyo is one of the most chaotic cities I've ever been to and yet there's absolutely beautiful order in this chaos. Anyone who's ever seen the Shibuya crossing during rush hour will know what I'm talking about. This madly busy crossing, during peak times is said to have over 1000 people cross it at a time, and yet, instead of looking like a disorganized human traffic jam it seems from a high point (the view point at the McDonald's above the crossing) like urban synchronized swimming.
Startups can many a times also seem like the disorganized human traffic jams yet, those working methodical and methodologically can create their own synchronized patterns urging both people and product to work together in harmony. My favorite methodology is a combination I created for myself based on the Business Generation Canvases, Lean Canvas and jobs to be done based on principals of design thinking.
3. Pay extra attention to detail - the saying "it's the little things in life" takes on a literal meaning in Japan. From the way people dress, to the serving of food in restaurants and the stop signs at the train terminals I was stunned by the impeccable attention to detail, order and cleanliness all around.
Attention to details is something many entrepreneurs struggle with due to lack of time and/or attention span. While I'm a huge supporter of half-baked minimal viable products, at times one detail (e.g. a feature, the design font, the customer service avatar) can make the difference between a good product and a great user experience thus serving as a key deferential. This is not to say - make your MVP perfect (if it is it's not an MVP) but do keep a folder/Pinterest board of the "small details" you might like to add in a later version.
And finally - go visit Japan! It's breathtaking!
*Originally posted on my LinkedIn