Moving Fast and (Not) Breaking Things

Written by Alec Wagner
May 19, 2020

There are a few mantras that many of us have heard before that characterize Silicon Valley’s startup culture: “Go fast and break things,” “profit at any cost,” and one of my favorites, “ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with going fast, profiting, or asking for forgiveness when you do something wrong–after all, to be successful as a startup you have to move quickly and seek to generate a profit–however, what I do not believe is that you have to do those things by breaking things, at any cost, or without asking for permission when it’s needed. But if we approach starting up from a different set of values, can we be profitable and agile?

Perhaps we can find the answer by looking westerly across the Pacific at Japan, where, in 2019, Teikoku Data Bank found over 33,000 businesses that were over a century old.

The author of the BBC article Why so many of the world’s oldest companies are in Japan explains that ‘shinise,’ or “old-shops” in Japanese, value things like tradition, future generations, legacy, and service, which may be the reason why they’ve successfully survived for such a long time.

Yoshinori Hara, dean and professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Management, says that Japanese companies’ emphasis on sustainability, rather than quick maximisation of profit, is a major reason why so many of the nation’s businesses have such staying power. “In Japan, it’s more: how can we move [the company] on to our descendants, our children, our grandchildren?”

Hawaiian businesses value similar things, such as pilina, kuleana, aloha, and waiwai; however, does a commitment to these kinds of values hamper the speed by which a company scales, profits, or innovates? The answer, not really.

Take Hosoo, for example, a Kyoto-based kimono manufacturer dating back to 1688. They’ve pivoted and expanded into carbon fibre production for materials companies while still sticking to their deep cultural roots.

(Brian Glazer, Founder & CEO, Hohonu)
Or for a closer to home example, consider various loko iʻa around the state leveraging technology created by Hohonu, a 2017 Purple Prize company. Many kiaʻi loko are now using Hohonu’s sensors to understand water conditions so they can better prepare for events like “king tides.”

Sure, these companies may not be global brands, trillion-dollar digital companies, or “unicorns,” but they are certainly designed to be more resilient, sustainable, and impactful, while also being profitable and innovative.

As the COVID-19 crisis in Hawaiʻi improves and we get closer to a state of recovery, there may be a surge in new companies and possibly new innovations, but let’s not be tempted to follow the model that our friends on the eastern edge of the Pacific have created for the world to follow. Lets go against the status-quo and create companies that optimize for resiliency, sustainability, and waiwai.

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