So I recently finished reading this awe- inspiring autobiography, Made In Japan by Akio Morita who is a pioneer of technology and who co- founded Sony Corporation with Masaru Ibuka. Fortunately, I read this novel on the back of another remarkable biography by Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs! Being a tech- freak, it was an enriching experience to peek into the lives of two of the greatest contributors to modern technology as also two giant corporations which have transformed electronics, music, media, entertainment and information industries.
Personally, I have been a Sony man and a Steve Jobs’ fan since a long time! After reading these novels I understood how acutely different Steve and Akio were! While one was an unwanted progeny of a young couple, the other was the oldest of four siblings in an affluent Japanese family and a successor to a thriving family business. While one dropped out of college, the other was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Navy and served in World War II! While one stole the thunder from the true creator of the first Apple computer- Steve Wozniak, the other governed Sony under the adroit guidance of Masaru Ibuka. Frankly, no two individuals could have been more different than Morita and Jobs!
Founded in 1946 under the name of ‘Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo’ (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation), Sony Corp. became one of the fastest rising electronics companies in the post- World War II open market era for Japan. Sony was at the forefront of innovations through the 1950s till 1980s. The magnetic recording tape, the tape recorder, fully transistorized pocket- sized radio, world’s first transistor television, floppy disks, Walkman, Discman, PlayStation are only a few amongst a diaspora of products. Apple on the other hand arrived on the horizon much later, in 1976. With its initial slew of Apple I and Apple II computers, Apple carved a market niche, but however, could never become the market leader. Facing tough competition from IBM and Microsoft in its formative years, Apple managed to reserve an exclusive space in their customers’ minds due to its single- minded focus on closed- source premium products. In the last decade, Apple’s name has been synonymous with innovation. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac and iTunes as revolutionized today’s technology. Apple products hold a snob value like no other piece of technology does.
These two biogs made me realize how the two giant organizations have treaded down a similar path over their life cycle. Frankly, I feel Apple has picked up Sony’s thread. Sony’s decline began in mid-1980s whereas Apple Inc. rose to fame at around the same time. Apple has imbibed Sony’s traits of aesthetic design, quality products and a venery of premium market space. Also, both corporations firmly believe in end- to- end integration of all their products! Likewise, the departure of the founders had cataclysmic effect on the fortunes of the respective companies.
However, as they are similar so are these two corporations poles apart! The DNA and ethos of Sony and Apple emanates from the leadership of Morita and Jobs respectively. Apple is more a capitalistic company where the ideas flow from top down, whereas Sony followed a more democratic team culture where the average employee had a firm voice the organization. Sony cultivated a cohesive, value based and harmonious framework whereas Apple thrived on individual excellence and drive from hierarchical echelons. Undoubtedly, the hemispherical divergence played a big role on their leadership styles, however, the basic difference ascends from the singularity of those individuals. Morita’s family orientation and Jobs’ adopted youth are evidence enough for the disparate directorship.
The paradoxical similarities between Morita and Jobs and Sony and Apple has brought a paradigm change in the world of technology. The detailed accounts of the condescending brilliance of Jobs and the value oriented genius of Morita in these biographies profoundly emphasize the importance of having a vision and believing in your product. The pathway to success may be different, but keeping an assured goal and intelligently labouring toward the same is the only sure route. Made In Japan and Steve Jobs are definitely two of the best novels that I have ever read of two of the greatest visionaries that our world has ever produced! And probably shall ever! Sony and Steve: The Genius and the whim.
This is the Sciolist.
(The above blog was published as an article in E-Magazine Mentor Mantra. To read the magazine version click here and flip to page 28.)