Kazuo Ichijo is professor of Innovation and Leadership. He is a leading authority on innovation through the process of organizational knowledge creation. His areas of expertise are the development of knowledge-based competence by firms, the management of innovation and corporate transformation. He has extensive ties with corporate Japan and is therefore well placed to help Japanese businesses innovate and develop internationally, while also enabling Western companies to learn from innovations by Japanese firms.
He returned to IMD as a full-time member of faculty in April 2022 after 13 years at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, where he was Dean and Professor of the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy. From 2003 to 2009, he was the first Japanese full-time member of IMD faculty, and he retained a role as Adjunct Professor at IMD during his time at Hitotsubashi.
“We are now living in an information and knowledge-based society, so the scope of countries, companies and individuals to gain competitive advantage depends on their ability to create new knowledge.”
Ichijo says innovation is a great source of competitive advantage, and innovation depends on knowledge creation, which can take the form of a new technology, new product or new business model. However, he states that successful innovation is surprisingly rare in organizations, because old habits die hard and people are inclined to stick to current ways of doing business, so innovation requires transformation driven by strong leadership.
Knowledge creation can also play a key role in creating a more sustainable world, with the shift to a zero-carbon economy representing a great opportunity for innovation and transformation, he believes.
Ichijo has close links with corporate Japan, and is therefore looking to help Japan’s business community drive innovation and develop its executives as global leaders following his return to IMD. He says corporate Japan has been losing competitive advantage, so he wants to act as a bridge between IMD and Japanese businesses to help revitalize the Japanese economy. He is additionally able to offer Japanese businesses a powerful international perspective and guide them through their interactions with the global economy, and his return will enable IMD to grow its ties with the Japanese business community and extend its international reach.
Western companies can also learn from the innovation and transformation carried out by leading Japanese companies such as Toyota, Sony, Honda and Fast Retailing, so this is a two-way process in which both sides can win. Fast Retailing is innovating by using state-of-the-art technology for its rapidly growing Uniqlo clothing brand, for instance, while Honda has transformed itself from a manufacturer of motorcycles to one of automobiles and now of small jet airplanes. Ichijo is writing a case study on the joint venture between Honda and Sony to develop electric vehicles, which he sees as a further example of Japan’s continued capacity for innovation.
He has written several books about knowledge creation in organizations, including Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation, which was named Business Book of the Year by the Association of American Publishers in 2000. He is now working on a book on knowledge creation in the digital era.
Ichijo has worked closely with many companies carrying out corporate transformations as a consultant or outside board member. He currently serves as an outside board member of four Japanese companies – sports gear manufacturer Shimano, clothing retailer World Co., information services firm ISID and events company PIA – and he was the highest-placed professor on Japanese publishing group Diamond’s ranking of around 9,400 outside board members in 2022. He is also chairman of the Japan Knowledge Management Society.