While I was a university student, I didn’t really attend my classes, and was instead absorbed by the drama club. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any acting talent. However, I was in charge of stage direction, which is similar to the work that I’m doing now. I got so engrossed in stage direction that I stayed completely cooped up in Kunitachi despite leaving the Nagano countryside to come all the way out to a university in Tokyo, to the point that I ended up staying back one year. [Laughs]
However, upon leaving the drama club, I figured that being in Tokyo and all, I thought I’d give work life a peek. Upon doing so, I happened to see a poster that said “Presidents from start-up companies will be visiting” on campus. Wondering what a “start-up” was all about, I thought I would check out the event. There, one of the several presidents who had taken the podium was Mr. Inoko. When he asked what everyone’s favorite books were and everyone earnestly citied a variety of works, Mr. Inoko gave his own answer: “I like Shonen Jump comics!” He also passionately discussed the topics of friendship, effort and winning. Looking at Mr. Inoko, I said to myself, “Like I thought, there are some interesting people in Tokyo.” [Laughs]
With that, I contacted Mr. Inoko and asked him for a job without even knowing what teamLab did as a company. Without hesitation, he answered, “Sure.”
Mr. Inoko then said to me, “Since you’re a student yourself, you must know how students feel. Why don’t you handle new graduate recruitment?” That marked the beginning of new graduate recruitment efforts at teamLab. I started to enjoy my work at teamLab a lot, so I asked Mr. Inoko to allow me to join the team once I drop out of college to enter the company. However, I was turned down. While this left me somewhat distressed, after graduating from college I entered a strategic consulting company instead of teamLab. Later on, I understood that at the time, teamLab was a still a small company with only about 50 employees, and was still completely unknown. In the event that teamLab went out of business, as someone that didn’t finish college, I would likely struggle. It turned out Mr. Inoko turned me down out of consideration for that.
After I had graduated and worked four years at the consulting company, I started thinking of finding work at another company. At that time, I had a chance to dine with Mr. Inoko for the first time in a while, during which he said, “What do you say to coming back to teamLab?” With that, I returned to the company seven years ago.
After returning to teamLab, I initially served as the manager the Planning Office team. While providing support to the members of the accounting, legal affairs, general affairs and HR teams, I went through a series of trial-and-error in order to ensure that areas that needed to be properly tended to were handled while keeping the entirety of teamLab a casual environment that is easy to work in.
At the time I entered teamLab, a number of things there were topsy-turvy. Right before formally joining the company, I took part in an accounting meeting as an observer. Upon performing a cash flow simulation at the meeting, I discovered that cash was slated to run out three months down the line. [Laughs]. Naturally, I was extraordinarily shocked, plus it seemed like Mr. Inoko and the other Directors did not have a grasp of the situation either. Moreover, a major earthquake occurred right at that time, prompting shrieks of, “Oh no! Our company is going down!” About a week later, using the comic “Salary Man Kintaro” as a reference, Mr. Inoko flew to the Middle East without making any sort of appointment for an impromptu meeting with a prince. [Laughs] It turned out that there was an infusion of cash into a project that no one knew about. While we managed to keep from running out of cash as a result, the company was in quite the precarious situation.
At that stage, based on my routine from my days spent as a consultant, I conducted meetings with various internal members on areas that were problematic, put together an ambitious PowerPoint presentation, and shared it with all staff members in an attempt to change various things. However, that ended in considerable failure.
Even now, I still don’t feel that what I attempted to do was wrong. However, I was completely unable to see it through to the end. The greatest cause behind that was that I overwhelmingly lacked the ability to involve others in my efforts. When I was doing consulting work, preparing PowerPoint presentations, receiving approval from client management and proceeding while keeping step with onsite managers was enough to ensure a successful outcome. I tried to the do the same at teamLab. This was a company where the typical member would frequently send out a companywide email fiercely criticizing the Directors using colorful language, a culture which the Directors themselves cherished. As such, the approach I took was completely meaningless. I shouldn’t have bothered with receiving Director acknowledgement of such PowerPoint materials. In retrospect, if I had brought together relevant members, prepared prototypes for the areas that I actually wanted to change on my own end, attempted test operation of those prototypes, gauged whether they would succeed while updating them, and, if it seemed that they would, shared those systems with everyone, I think they would have gone on to naturally permeate through the company and become overall systems.
In that and other ways, I have been going through a cycle of trial and error since that failure. Five years ago, it was decided that teamLab would open an office in Taiwan. For a three-year period, I supervised the Taiwan operation in a catalyst role. After that, I relocated to Singapore roughly two years ago. Today, I oversee projects in Southeast Asia and China in general while operating from Singapore.
At teamLab, we form teams for each specialized area, including engineering, design and architecture, and put together an optimal team for each project. Those team members act as catalysts to carry out anything while slightly going beyond their domain of specialization and engaging in trial and error together as a team so that they can elevate the quality of works to the utmost limit.
I say that catalysts “carry out anything,” but I also believe them to be the members who take responsibility for the final result. Their job consists of carrying out anything that falls between members with varying specializations in accordance with the situation surrounding the project so that results can be produced. More specifically, they start with brainstorming for projects, then move on to tasks such as the negotiation and determination of business-based conditions; the adjustment of specifications, resources and construction for guaranteeing the quality of projects; and the design and installation of the various equipment to be used.
While I made some slightly negative remarks about my prior consulting job, given that the negotiation and determination of business-based conditions and various people and elements intertwine, I feel that in areas that I tackle while logically examining those parameters, my past experience working as a consultant has benefited me considerably. Also, because I am based overseas, I have numerous opportunities to communicate with client and partner-side management and owners on my own. I believe that my boldness to engage such high-level individuals without feeling daunted is a direct product of my work experience as a consultant.
For starters, teamLab has amazing potential!
At teamLab, we render physical space into digital form and engage in the trial-and-error creation of experiences that tie into new values for digital society. The definition of “physical space” is a considerably broad thing.
teamLab started off exhibiting digital art in museums. Now, we also offer “Learn! Future Amusement Park,” which incorporates educational works in addition to art. We also have “teamLab Jungle,” a new type of musical festival that both children and adult fans of music can enjoy.
Our exhibition locations are not limited to dark enclosed spaces. In a bright public space at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, a giant work by teamLab using LED is on permanent display in the place of a skating rink that was formerly there.
Outdoors as well, we have projects in which we transform outdoor nature completely into digital art based on the concept of “Digitized Nature, Digitized City.”
While these projects have their own clients and partners, we present all of them as teamLab works and projects.
What’s more, there are many more possibilities other than those above. For example, there is a massive number of physical spaces that will likely be rendered into digital spaces in the future, such as hotels, commercial facilities, towns and cities. Rendering something into digital form as I am referring to it here does not simply mean elevating the level of convenience through digital technology. Rather, it means using the power of digital means to create spaces in which people can feel more enjoyable, comfortable and happy.
I also believe that our ability to compete globally is another appealing point of teamLab. If I’m not mistaken, among our current projects rendering physical space into digital form, those for countries overseas outnumber those for Japan.
Moreover, we are finding success in forming partnerships with local top players and cultivating clients in various regions around the world. Our area coverage has expanded from Southeast Asia and China to include the US and Europe.
Our local partners and clients have a very positive perception of what teamLab is trying to accomplish. An example is the National Museum of Singapore, where we are currently holding our second exhibition.
I think part of the reason for this is because the experiences that our works offer can easily transcend borders due to being almost completely nonverbal. Another likely part is that we are recognized as artists, especially overseas.
Plus, despite the sheer possibilities that our field contains, the number of teams who are engaged in this field currently is still extremely small even from a global vantage-point. Currently, teamLab has 500 members. This might make us the largest team in the world active in this field. Moreover, many of those members are professionals necessitated by this field, in which various forms of specialization are a must.
To wrap up, although teamLab as a company mostly consists of engineers and creators, the background of its catalysts is wide-ranging and includes members who were in design, engineering and architecture as well as those who were in consulting such as myself.
We actively seek new members who will realize this overflowing potential that teamLab has, and look forward to your applications.