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Taking an adaptable and flexible approach to diversity to create new values

Yuki Yato
Sony Intellectual Property Services Corporation, Innovation Intelligence Dept.

I loved the stars and dreamed of a career in space when I was a student

I have been passionate about science since I was a child and was especially interested in the stars. It all started when I was in elementary school and my summer vacation homework assignment was to observe the phases of the moon. In junior high school, I joined the Science Research Astronomy Club and spent almost every night stargazing. I would go into the mountains in summer and watch the stars all night from the middle of a cabbage field.

I had considered studying astrophysics at university, but as I wanted to go out into the world and work as soon as possible, I chose engineering rather than science because it was more practical. I majored in instrumentation engineering. However, I could not shake off my love for the stars and decided I wanted a job that related to space. I visited workplaces at companies and organizations involved in space-related businesses but found no opportunities because very few of them were hiring female employees at the time. In the end, I had to abandon my aspirations for space-related work. I decided that if I was going to work in a job that had nothing to do with space, I should join a company that seemed to offer the most interesting work. I applied to Sony because it has the image of a company that rapidly creates new projects and I wanted to try planning new products.

Experiencing cutting-edge technologies and inventions, and discovering the appeal of intellectual property

When I joined Sony, I wanted to work in engineering or product planning. At the time, the application form for job preferences distributed after I joined the company had fields for up to six choices, but I could only think of five. However, I suddenly remembered my best friend mentioned that intellectual property work sounded interesting, so I put that down as my sixth choice. I was then assigned to the Patent Department of the Intellectual Property Division, probably because few people wanted to work in intellectual property at the time. I never had the opportunity at university to learn about intellectual property and knew nothing about it, but I was allowed to study it after I joined the company. In my fifth year in the Patent Department, I was sent to a law firm in New York for four months on a training program. This was an invaluable experience both for learning about IP-related laws in the US, and for understanding the work style and culture there.

Although I had not expected to end up working in intellectual property, I found it stimulating and interesting to come into contact with the cutting-edge technologies and inventions both inside and outside the company, and I became increasingly absorbed in my work. As my interest in exploring intellectual property increased, I wanted to know more about the origins of new technologies and inventions, and strategies for selecting themes for technological development. I therefore took advantage of the in-house recruitment system* and transferred to the Technology Development Strategy Division (R&D Strategy Department). I was initially put in charge of development strategies for communication technologies but was subsequently ordered to transfer to the Business Strategy Division and Business Department, where I was also involved in planning and launching network-related businesses. This was exciting since I had wanted to be involved in planning work when I joined the company. After working on development strategies to business start-ups, I decided I wanted to use this experience to work in intellectual property again. I therefore returned to the Intellectual Property Division to take charge of technology licensing, information strategies, and intellectual property incubation. I believe I was able to leave the Intellectual Property Division, where I was first assigned, and gain a variety of experiences in the Business Strategy Division and the Business Division because the atmosphere in the workplace encourages people to try out their ideas in practice. As Akio Morita, one of Sony's founders, said, "The individual should decide where they should work and where they are the right person for the job." That is the culture at Sony.

  • *The Sony Group's personnel system allows employees to raise their hands and apply for a department or post of their choice based on their desire to take on new challenges.

At a law firm in New York. I learned a great deal from the partner, Mr. Frommer, and all the staff

Allowing diversities to intermingle creates new values

I am currently the General Manager of the Sony Intellectual Property Services Corporation, Innovation Intelligence Dept. We analyze information on intellectual property, markets, and trends in technology development to identify changes in the world and make recommendations to management. The Innovation Intelligence Dept. also supports the creation of new businesses using Sony's technologies and explores the possibilities of open innovation*. One of the projects we are working on is the Triporous™ open innovation project. Triporous is a new material derived from rice husks and was originally invented by Sony as an anode material for lithium-ion batteries. However, we utilize its excellent adsorption properties to provide new functional values such as water and air purification, and odor prevention and neutralization. We have been collaborating with partner companies in a variety of industries, including food and beverages, daily necessities such as shampoo and facial cleansers, and apparel. All of these collaborations were born from wide-ranging relationships with people outside the company. To link Sony's technologies with the issues facing other industries and workplaces, I am constantly engaged in dialogue with people from various industries and am aware of the need to inform them about Sony's technologies and assets. The experience I have gained in departments other than IP and the personal connections I have made with people outside the company have also been helpful in this regard. Every day, I realize that intermingling the diversity of different industries and cultures is an effective way of creating new values. Members of my department together with the University of Tokyo and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the STARSPHERE project to develop satellites that will allow ordinary people to capture the Earth and the stars using various types of camera work and co-create inspiring space experience businesses. Although the work has now been transferred to another department in preparation for commercialization, I was thrilled to be able to be involved in a project that takes place in space, which was a dream of mine when I was a student, and I am glad that I had a variety of experiences at Sony.

  • *A management strategy that aims to trigger product development, technological innovation, and R&D by combining knowledge and technologies held by companies, organizations and institutions other than the company itself.

Triporous is also used in this towel. I never imagined that I would be involved in clothing and daily necessities when I joined Sony

Encouraged to try management and quit if it did not go well

About three years after I returned to the IP division, my boss at the time recommended that I become a section chief. I declined because I had just finished taking childcare leave and was not confident that I would be able to balance life and work skillfully. My boss asked me again five years later, when my child started elementary school. I consulted my supervisor as well as my mentor, who always gives me advice, and she suggested I give it a try it and quit if it did not work. This encouraged me to take up the challenge. Initially, I thought I might not be suited to management work, but once I was actually in that position, I realized it was the right job for me, partly because I like interacting and collaborating with people to make things happen.

In my early days in management, I felt I had to understand all the details of the projects that team members were working on, and make decisions. However, it is almost impossible to grasp everything myself because of the extremely broad range of technologies and industries involved, including different businesses, and the high-level expertise of individual members. Eventually, I realized it was okay if I did not understand all the detail and it was more important to know experts of each area. I became more aware of using my personal network to the fullest to act as a bridge between team members and others. Since then, I have become more comfortable and the scope of my work has expanded.

Outside of work, I am a member of the management team of the Leaders Lab(*), a Sony Group-wide community established by volunteers within the company. It organizes seminars and panel discussions to provide a place for department heads to learn from each other. This enables managers to talk with colleagues from other departments with whom they have little contact in their daily work. It is very useful for learning about leadership, expanding personal networks and doing exploratory work. People who want to learn from each other in order to improve the company gather together to have lively discussions, share their problems, get hints and generally cheer each other up. I believe the ability to voluntarily engage in these kinds of activities is part of Sony's culture.

  • *A community where Sony managers can voluntarily learn about management and leadership. Activities include planning and organizing events such as lectures and workshops, primarily for department heads.

Getting in touch with my aspirations and discovering a great way of life in management

In my opinion, the ideal approach to making the most of diversity at work is to possess your own core axis, take an interest in various specialties and human resources, and proactively study and develop contacts with them. Of course, we often clash with people when they voice different opinions or, in the case of different industries, when dissimilar conventions create confusion. In such cases, it is important to start by listening to others, and be flexible and adaptable in sharing our thoughts and feelings as we seek common ground and reciprocity. Being adaptable is only possible when you have your own values and core. I am sometimes asked how I do this. My secret is to make time to spend in nature no matter how busy I may be. Being in nature sharpens my senses and enables me to return to my original core and values, eliminating doubts. I also like to climb snowy mountains where I must depend on my own feet to make progress. As I move forward one step at a time, my mind calms down and solutions and ideas suddenly pop up. I also make a point of making time to broaden my horizons by proactively seeking out people that I want to talk to or meet. My philosophy is to go and meet people I want to meet.

In fact, I met a woman who became my role model because she made me realize that like her, I want to be adaptable in the way I live my life. She is a specialist and a brilliant manager in the company, but one day I saw her happily talking about how cute her children were and how much she enjoyed raising them. I was greatly impressed by her ability to enjoy being a mother while working in management. I decided that I want to live an attractive life like hers, too. She encouraged me when my boss reiterated his recommendation that I become a section chief and advised me to meet many different people. There are various approaches to managing and living our daily lives. I recommend for those of you who are aspiring to become managers, that you find someone close to you that you admire as a reference. Then, I would like you to develop your own style.

I feel at ease as I make my way through the snowy mountains, one step at a time on my own two feet. For me, I need this time to stay adaptable