Championing an Alternative Creative Society with Different Traditions, Systems, and Ideas

Topos 2: Alternative Ways of Living

In Topos 2, the second session, Ms. Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir (Founder and CEO, Hjallastefnan ehf.,Iceland), Ms. Noriko Suenobu (Corporate Officer, Group Research and Regulatory Affairs, POLA Orbis Holdings Inc.), and Ms. Haruko Nishida (President, Women Help Women) took the podium to speak on the theme of "Alternative Ways of Living."

The three speakers were introduced as practitioners who have given birth to alternatives. They presented stories that produced new categories and movements without keeping to common sense and custom, and considered practical wisdom to create such alternatives.

A Bigger Perspective Gives Rise to Alternatives

At the start of this session, Dr. Alan Kay, a U.S. computer scientist, appeared by live video feed. He developed an innovative concept called the Dynabook concept (*), and he is sometimes called the "father of the personal computer."

He proposed "looking at the future society from a child's perspective." He spoke to the audience: "For example, babies born this year will be 82 years old in 2100, at the end of the 21st century. What will the earth be like in the future? Can human beings survive until that time? Can we make the earth a better place than it is now? We must consider these things."

Reflecting on history, one can see that human beings are programmed to cooperate and co-create with one another in order to develop societies and cultures. However, we tend to pay attention only to our immediate surroundings. He warned that this tendency deserves special attention after our entry into the 21st century.

"Currently, the earth's population grows by 1 billion every 13 years, and a major percentage of people now live in urban areas. Given these circumstances, how to secure the necessary food, clothing, housing, and energy is becoming an increasingly serious problem. While technologies invented by humans have enriched our lives, they have created new problems. We must think about how we can solve such problems effectively." (Dr. Kay)

Also, according to him, some problems gradually occur and continue, such as climate change, and we must adopt a more global perspective to resolve them. He quoted Albert Einstein: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Dr. Kay continued: "We cannot solve problems with old categories of thinking. Unless we replace them with different and better categories, we cannot solve the problems we have created." He noted that such categories themselves are alternatives.

  • *: The concept of an ideal personal computer that embodies elements such as an easy-to-hold-with-one-hand size, an interactive interface (GUI environment), and low cost.

A New Educational Method to Eliminate Gender Disparity

Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir, Founder and CEO, Hjallastefnan ehf.,Iceland

Next, Ms. Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir took the podium. She introduced the Hjalli Model, an educational theory intended to design a diverse society, and an episode at an educational facility in Iceland that differs completely from traditional facilities.

In the face of gender disparity and diversity issues, 27 years ago she created a unique, radical educational method for kindergartens and elementary schools. In addition, she also actually established the first kindergarten based on the method and put the theory into practice. Since this education had a very unique educational policy, she noted there had been severe criticism upon its establishment.

Now her educational firm is operating 14 kindergartens and according to her, 7 to 8% of kindergartners in Iceland are currently admitted to the kindergarten she runs: "By exploring people's needs and providing an alternative to conventional schools, the time has arrived in which parents choose our school."

Iceland has a higher birthrate than Japan. She remarked, "Children are our hope. I think they are the best educators for adults. I must admit that adults are not excellent educators for children."

She continued, "Opening up the labor market to women promotes economic growth. It is important to provide the best kindergartens for children by having everyone participate instead of relying only on the private or the public sectors. I hope to continue my work of taking care of children throughout my life, gaining the trust of not only children but also of women."

The Hjalli Model uses open-ended teaching materials that stimulate children's imaginations instead of traditional play equipment and toys. Unique methods are used to educate children, such as working in a single sex setting some part of the day to enrich each child´s experience, allowing girls to do "boys' things" and vice versa.

Ms. Ólafsdóttir concluded her presentation with this comment: "True empathy is born from sharing each other's experiences. It is important to positively interact with one another and to treat others with compassion."

Five Essential Items to Create a New Category

Noriko Suenobu, Corporate Officer, Group Research and Regulatory Affairs, POLA Orbis Holdings Inc.

Next to speak was Ms. Noriko Suenobu, the chief development officer of Japan's first medicinal cosmetic product to improve wrinkles, "Wrinkle Shot Medical Serum." It took her 15 years to achieve commercialization and the process was not smooth. In her presentation, she explained her methodology for creating an innovative alternative while telling the development story.

It normally takes three years to develop a new cosmetic product. Therefore, Wrinkle Shot's 15-year development period is quite long. It took 7 years to submit an application and 8 more years to obtain approval. She identified three hurdles she faced during the 15-year development period.

The first hurdle was to determine the root cause of wrinkles. Her research group members wanted to directly investigate themselves instead of using reports published by other companies, and they finally detected an enzyme that causes wrinkles. From among approximately 5,400 types of ingredients, their results led them to NEI-L1, an ingredient that inhibits the enzyme's function.

Commercialization was the second hurdle. NEI-L1 easily decomposes when dissolved in water, making it very difficult to provide to consumers as a quasi-drug. Looking back on those days when the research group was about to give up on the project, she remembers a team member proposed an innovative method that broke the deadlock. After this breakthrough, the project progressed smoothly until application submission.

The third hurdle was that they could not obtain approval from the administration. A cosmetic issue in 2013 raised severe questions about the safety of ordinary cosmetics and medicinal cosmetics, which delayed the administration's screening process. The research group repeatedly carried out safety tests for a long time on an unprecedented scale for ordinary cosmetics; as a result, they finally obtained approval in July 2016.

Ms. Suenobu concluded her presentation by introducing the five items necessary to create a new category that she discovered through this project:

  • See what is invisible now.
  • Always think about going forward.
  • Be tenacious and never give up.
  • Expand your circle of partners.
  • Have good competition in the market.

Living a Life without Failure

Haruko Nishida, President, Women Help Women

Next, Ms. Haruko Nishida took the podium. She said that she developed strong awareness about "living a good life" since her encounter with Ikujiro Nonaka, Topos Conference founder and professor emeritus, and she then started to live as a practitioner. In her presentation, she spoke of living life without failure.

While working as research general manager for the North Asia Region at a consulting firm, she started to question herself: "Is it really good for society to make big companies even bigger? What does living a good life mean to me? In conclusion, to me living a good life means taking on the quest to realize a society that is better than that of today, which I think is exactly an alternative."

Her ideal society is an inclusive society in which everyone, regardless of age or gender, lives together in harmony. She started to act to realize such a society, which led to the project named "Women Help Women."

This project aims to build a mechanism by which women can create new economic value and help make society better through manual labor. One specific example is an attempt to disseminate Japan's traditional culture by upcycling (i.e., converting used materials into something of higher value) traditional kimono materials handed down for generations while helping facilitate economic independence for women in areas stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

She established the "I Fund" in collaboration with the Public Resources Foundation. The I Fund aims to help women become financially independent so that they can make a living by creating new value while protecting traditional resources and tapping into community involvement.

"I want to develop a feasible civic economy," she said. The civic economy is a method of vitalizing local small economies and communities by getting small businesses and manual work businesses together to mutually sustain one another. Specifically, she has set goals of establishing an economic circulation mechanism using new technology and models (e.g., blockchain and the sharing economy) as well as the energy of distributed local communities to achieve independence.

Towards the end of her presentation, Ms. Nishida quoted Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." She concluded with this remark: "We are determined to continue finding ways that will not work until we solve the problem."

The Importance of Acting with Courage

At the end of the session, the speakers shared messages with the audience.
"In the end, what is important is empathy and love in society. It is important to know how to give each other a helping hand." (Ms. Ólafsdóttir)
"To accomplish something new, passionately imagine. Tell your story of reaching the goal in as much detail as possible. It is also important to expand the circle of partners." (Ms. Suenobu)
"What is most important is to kindle a fire in your heart. Do not hesitate to put what you want to do into practice and repeatedly find ways that will not work by trial and error until you find a solution. It is important to think about how you want to change society." (Ms. Nishida)

Dr. Konno summarized Topos 2: "To achieve alternative ways of living, it is important to create exemplar models, seek methodologies, and act on behalf of the common good. Having courage is the key factor common to all three speakers."