Culture Often Trumps Innovation



In a world that seems hungry for innovation and the next disruptive gadget or shiny new things, some things are hard to replace. Despite the obvious improvement and benefits that are being touted, culture often proves to be the biggest obstacle to change. Take this story about Japan and its love for the fax machine:

“The fax was such a success here that it has proven hard to replace,” said Kenichi Shibata, a manager at NTT Communications, which led development of the technology in the 1970s. “It has grown unusually deep roots into Japanese society.”

Much like the U.S. and its stubborn instance on non-metric based measurement systems or the modern business world’s sadistic attachment to email, the fax remains today a fixture in workplace and home, something that is still seen in certain industries in the U.S. Many more anachronisms pop up on an everyday basis, like the gut of holiday catalogs that stuff mailboxes in December,the fact that sending money from one bank to another can take days instead of seconds and the text based interfaces that are still in use for main critical business systems.

Unless you understand and address the culture context, your opportunity of changing out the comfort of the now for the uncertainty of the new will likely experience a quick death.  Never underestimate culture change when introducing new technology and innovation.


This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.

Image credit: CC by Matt Jiggins

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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