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Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

"FLIGHT PATH" No.22 | 2018 WINTER

People
Setting new global trends through the “Work Creatively, Work Cool!” project

Kanako Yasue (left in photo) and Taiyo Okamoto (right in photo)

Kanako Yasue (left)
Researcher, Next Generation Aeronautical Innovation Hub Center / Numerical Simulation Research Unit
Taiyo Okamoto (right)
Associate Senior Administrator, Management and Integration Department
Photo: In front of printed screens of “Four Stories,” which depict scenarios of how the sky may be utilized in future society.

Tell us about how the project was started.
Yasue: The “Work Creatively, Work Cool!” project was launched by a group of like-minded members(In Japanese) of the Management and Integration Department with the aim of creating new research areas for JAXA's Aeronautical Technology Directorate, using an approach known as “design thinking.” Design thinking seeks to generate ideas for a new direction or new product by taking “people” as a starting point and uncovering hidden needs. In fiscal year 2017, the Aeronautical Technology Directorate initiated a scheme to find new research frontiers with the aim of creating new value. This initiative sets a number of research targets in a top-down fashion and promotes research and development related to those targets. However, I felt that the research targets that are provided tended to be an extension of an existing technology or something in line with a global trend. This observation got me thinking that it might be interesting to introduce an alternative approach with the aim of creating new global trends—to go beyond the needs of existing academic disciplines, aircraft manufacturers, and airlines and focus directly on “people (ordinary citizens)” as a starting point for discussion. So basically this is how I got the idea for the project.
Okamoto: The “Work Creatively, Work Cool!” project was started by me and two others. I told Dr. Shigeru Tachibana (Manager, Management and Integration Department), who was my supervisor at the time, and Ms. Yasue that I wanted to do something that wows people, or something that's simply more exciting. This got the ball rolling.

Who are the other members of the project?
Okamoto: It's hard to fully expand on an idea with only three members, so we engaged like-minded colleagues about the same age in the Management and Integration Department. We eventually grew into a group of seven to eight members. As the project got started, we were sometimes faced with situations in which we were only able to generate narrow, confined ideas with only members from the same Department. So we approached people who work close to the frontline of research within the Aeronautical Technology Directorate, as well as those who share similar awareness of issues or who engage in similar activities in other directorates of JAXA, and invited them to join us. Now we are a community of some 20 individuals.
Yasue: I believe the fact that administrative staff work alongside researchers is also one distinctive feature of this project.

Could you give us some examples of your activities?
Yasue: There are roughly three kinds of activities. One is directly related to creating new research areas. It's extremely difficult to eliminate what's obvious, or the “common sense,” in the aerospace field in our thinking and come up with truly new ideas on our own. In that sense, it was quite significant that we were able to collaborate with external consultants who developed design thinking as well as companies and organizations that already make active use of this technique. The second is what we refer to as case studies. These are studies of how design thinking is actually implemented in various disciplines, including areas outside the aerospace field. We even visited Silicon Valley to get a first-hand look at design thinking in action and had a really productive discussion with the people there. The last is activities aimed at spreading the concept of design thinking itself across JAXA.
Okamoto: In design thinking, you perform brainstorming sessions in various phases to add new ideas. What was challenging for me was that as you build on ideas, your thoughts keep ballooning and start getting out of control. Personally, figuring out how to keep that process under control as a project activity and make adjustments when needed became a major issue. Since I normally engage in a more logic-driven work that involves setting a clear destination first and thinking how to get there, I really struggled trying to adopt this kind of thought process. But it was a great experience for sure.

What did you achieve through these activities?
Yasue: Our current project activities has just ended in December 2018. As a product of our efforts, we compiled “Four Stories” depicting scenarios of how the sky may be utilized in future society and just released them as Future Blue Sky on our website.
Okamoto: The “Four Stories” place more emphasis on how people who use the sky feel rather than on the technological basis of each application. The stories are written in plain, simple words. Hopefully, we will be able to glean valuable insight from all sorts of feedback that we look to receive, and then we will work to have the insight reflected in JAXA's scheme to find new research frontiers.
Yasue: Going forward, we will keep our sights set on the future that people truly desire as we generate themes for research and development and strive to realize that future.

Do you have any message for people aspiring to join JAXA's Aeronautical Technology Directorate?
Yasue: As a child, I was fascinated by the beauty of the spacecraft that appear in the Star Wars movies, and I was drawn to the aviation field because I wanted to make something like them in the future. JAXA welcomes people with an enterprising spirit and a drive to try new things. I feel that many people here are willing to offer support if you have an awareness of issues and say what you want to do about them.
Okamoto: The aviation field has a well-established market, and JAXA has a major role to play by conducting research and development that contributes to Japanese industry. It is an environment where I can easily envision how I can apply my knowledge and experience. As JAXA's employee, I had an opportunity to study in the United States, where many venture businesses are doing a lot of exciting work in the aviation and space fields. It was a very inspiring experience. Aviation is a field where innovation and new services will keep cropping up. Perhaps JAXA will launch its own aviation venture someday. I would love to take part in that if it does. I can say through my own experience that JAXA is a workplace where both researchers and administrative staff can take up all kinds of challenges.


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