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(No.35) Only Fresh Brains Sustain Business (2)

The previous story covered the timeline of Ricoh’s main products and number of employees. We learned that a new product sometimes takes many years to contribute as a major product, and normally requires constant support from many people. Here are some of the stories behind the scene.

Figure 1: Major product lines and the number of Ricoh employees

Figure 1: Major product lines and the number of Ricoh employees

The graph in Figure 2 shows the number of patents applied for and issued in Japan and the U.S.A., which corresponds to the increases in employees. As you might expect, the number of patents increased for several years. This came about after the business, related technologies and market needs became well understood. They continue to be active 5 to 15 years later.

Figure 2: Transition in the number of Ricoh patents applied for and issued in Japan/U.S.

Figure 2: Transition in the number of Ricoh patents applied for and issued in Japan/U.S.

The first peak of patent applications occurred about 1960, which may indicate the practical use of manpower that started work around 1952. The next peak was around the end of 1960s, which may correspond to the increase in employees around 1960. The third peak in 1975 was affected by the new technologies for facsimiles, word processors, and office computers. Most of the inventors were from among the large number of employees who joined around the late 1960s and 1970. The last big peaks target digital copiers and information technologies, whose main contributors are engineers who joined around the early 1970s.

Since 1895, inventions have targeted wider areas like algorithms and software systems. It is worth mentioning that the latest inventions include many improvements, which have become more important when used in connected networks. To respond to customer requests, small but effective improvements become increasingly important. Technologies of this kind produce large profits, which are often invisible when imbedded in the system. The system requires extraordinary human effort to be accepted by the market. The large number of software engineers who joined Ricoh after the late 1970s are contributing in this area.

By understanding this story, you can estimate the number of people who needed to work together for the market to accept Ricore or Digital Copiers when they were introduced to the market. The number of patents is one indicator that explains this story. A modern product requires many fresh brains as well as constant support.

On January 22, 2010, Science Magazine published the following graph, which indicates the number of foreign PhD holders who continue to reside in the U.S.A. Accordingly, the percentage of PhD holders grew between 1993 and 1997, from 58% to 68%(Science, Vol. 327, p.397).

Figure 3: Foreign students’ residency ratio after receiving Ph.D. in the U.S.A.

Figure 3: Foreign students’ residency ratio after receiving Ph.D. in the U.S.A.

Most are from China or India. In general, American students hesitate to take science courses as their majors because of the intense study required. We are seeing the same trend in Japan. When I met with Professor Muroga of the University of Illinois around 1990, he explained that he often asked his best students to help in his class. Some students in the class complained that the English spoken by those students was hard to understand because they were born in other countries. But Professor Muroga had no other choice. As this graph shows, the American government may intentionally use those foreign born researchers as their own work force, which moves the economy ahead.

Historically, this is how things have always been done in countries. At the end of the Jomon Era, Japan had a population of about 100,000 (Figure 4). But within a few hundred years, Yayoi people dominated Japan, who looked completely different from the Jomon. This has been the subject of debate among researchers: why could the number of Yayoi increase in such large numbers in so short a time without any trace of massive migration?

Figure 4: Transition of Japanese population since Jomon Era

Figure 4: Transition of Japanese population since Jomon Era
[Source: Ultralong-term (Japanese) population (in Japanese) ]

Here is a new explanation. Around the 1st century, a few people (less than 10 thousand) came to Japan with the sophisticated technology of rice growing. They successfully implemented their agricultural technologies and successfully produced more food than before. The Aya or Hata family came to Japan from the continent and helped agricultural engineering, mainly irrigation. If one female at that time bore the same number of children as 100 years ago in Japan, the number would be around five. If four of the five grew to be adults, the original population would double with each generation. After 10 generations, about 200 to 250 years, the number would be 2 10 = 1024-fold. This means that if there were only 1000 original members, the total population would grow to one million, which was the total Japanese population of that era. This explains why the Yayoi people overwhelm Japan without massive migration from other places.

In any company or society, new technologies are the basic engine to support progress. As Japan may promote its society using new foreigners’ technology, the same story applies today.

(Ej, 2010.5)

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