What a trip it is that’s coming to an end for me today as I’m sitting at Narita Airport, bound for Berlin via Istanbul. Once I reach Tegel Airport, I’ll have rounded the globe, by way of Amsterdam, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo and Istanbul.
After a couple of pretty intense months running several conferences back-to-back, the plan was to head to San Francisco for just a week as a speaker at O’Reilly’s new hardware/software/IoT conference, O’Reilly Solid. And that happened, and it was great. My talk went over pretty well. Drones were flown. Many great conversations with friends new and old. Many ideas to follow up on. Only when the week was up, I didn’t go straight back to Berlin.
Night scene at Shibuya Station
An email came in, asking if I could join a delegation from Berlin to Tokyo, to talk about Berlin’s tech, startup and IoT scene, and about the potential of exchange and collaboration between both cities. While sitting at SolidCon, I started rebooking my travel plans. Within a couple of days, I was headed to Tokyo via Honolulu, writing presentations for two Japanese audiences: For a more corporate setting, for Recruit Technologies (concretely, their Advanced Technologies Lab) who invited us via their Berlin partner Bistream for the Berlin Innovation Meetup. And for the startup teams at Samurai Startup Island.
As part of a group of Berlin’s finest including Zoe of Xyo, Sophie of Headwave, Leah of The Wye and Makoto of Bistream, I would be representing the city to these Japanese stakeholders who wanted to learn more about Berlin & Germany & the tech scene there.
Stomping for more exchange
So I went stomping for more formal and informal exchange both between disciplines as well as regions – both topics that have always been high on my personal priority list: It’s the reason all the conferences I’m involved in have a strong international focus and they tend to be massively transdisciplinary. You can find both (similar) presentations in my blog posts (Recruit presentation, Samurai presentation).
In between these talks, I had some time to catch up on work, and to meet more folks. My old university friends Ryo and Shota kindly took the time to meet up a few times, so we got to catch up and they showed me around in a way I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the city.
A glimpse into the Japanese tech scene
Héctor, part of the excellent team of Digital Garage, kindly gave me a tour of the DG headquarters.
We also got a tour and a series of high level meetings at KOIL, the Kashiwa no ha Open Innovation Lab, too. An impressive space indeed.
The new coworking area at KOIL
With Samurai, Digital Garage and KOIL I feel I got a good glimpse into the Japanese tech scene – and one that’s worth expanding even further. I truly hope to get the chance to do that sooner rather than later.
Berlin Innovation Meetup at Recruit
I cannot stress enough how important I think these kinds of exchanges are. As global as our world has become thanks to the internet, there’s a surprising lack of knowledge and deeper mutual understanding between Japan in Germany concretely, and Asia and Europe/America more generally. Whereas the exchange between US and Europe in particular has been going strong for decades, eased along by shared language and history, the same doesn’t hold true quite as much between Asia and the Western World.
These Udon noodles don’t have anything to do with the story. They just were really yummy.
Building bridges for understanding and collaboration
Building bridges, and thus increasing our mutual understanding, takes time. Face-to-face time, too. We all have tremendous amounts to gain from fostering this exchange: Together, strengthened by diversity and mutual understanding, we will build a richer culture, better products, and – I expect and hope – lots of interesting, unexpected new things.
In a couple of weeks I’m headed back to San Francisco to continue some of the conversations started over the last few months. As for the Tokyo-Berlin exchange, I’m looking forward to continue working with Makoto and Takeshi (Bistream and Recruit respectively) and the Berlin crew and contribute whatever I can to take the next steps there. What form or shape this will take eventually is hard to tell just yet. Then of course there’s the question if we can bring ThingsCon to Japan as well. We’ve been having a number of very interesting conversations about localized events around the globe, and we’ll see where these lead eventually. Personally, I’d be quite interested in setting up more of these formal or informal exchanges and collaborations.
Post-event dinner with the Berlin crew
As someone said during one of our Tokyo meetings:
Several people sitting at a table, having a conversation. This is it. This is how new things start.
I couldn’t agree more.