Entrepreneurship in Oji-san no Lamp

Though now a byword in the world of startup companies, the term “disruptive innovation” only began to take off around 1995 when business professor Clayton Christensen outlined the idea in his book Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave and extended it in The Innovator’s Dilemma. In a nutshell, disruptive innovation is a product or service that upends existing business models by presenting approaches that are far simpler and more efficient. One need not look too far to find examples like eBooks and the self-publishing platforms that have accompanied them displacing traditional publishers and booksellers or devices like mp3 players which have replaced CD players. In competitive markets, the rise of a new product or service often comes at the expense of an old one. That is what progress is all about and entrepreneurs are the ones who typically push at the edges of the status quo in search of the “next big thing” that will make them rich while (hopefully) pushing innovation forwards.

With that in mind, I can think of few other anime that show this process at work. In the midst of what was probably the heaviest business-oriented anime season with shows like C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (finance) and Moshidora (general management) airing, Oji-san no Lamp, released as part of the Young Animator Training Project, relayed a simple story about a young entrepreneur named Minosuke, who saw an opportunity and seized it. The premise it carried was intriguing and I came into Oji-san no Lamp with the hope that it would be able to capture the freewheeling spirit of enterprise. Spoiler warnings ahoy!

For the most part, the anime pulls through. We see the spark of entrepreneurship take hold when Minosuke recognizes the possibilities that oil lamps have for his rural village. Add to that the energy that he pours into his new business, his ability to sell, and his resourcefulness, and Minosuke was able to carve out a prosperous niche for himself. His future was indeed bright!

Or so it seemed. In all due time, the disruptor is bound to be disrupted, and in this case, not even Minosuke was able to break out of the confines of the product life cycle. With the benefit of hindsight, we realize Minosuke’s business model cannot last; as Minosuke’s oil lamps displaced devices like torchlight, so does electricity, which disrupts the market for oil lamps by replacing them with lightbulbs, thereby resigning oil lamps to the Decline Stage of the product life cycle.

But more interesting than the decline of the oil lamp industry is Minosuke’s reaction to the changing market conditions. And perhaps that reaction is the most disappointing thing about his character. His enthusiastic drive and opportunity-seeking mindset deserted him in the face of these changes and rather than embracing the new technology and figuring how to profit off of it, he actively tries to fight it as he clings to an outdated business model. While that’s not an unusual reaction to have, I did expect a bit more from a successful entrepreneur and wished that he’d look towards the advent of this technology as a new frontier to explore. Perhaps it’s the fact that he has a wife and kids and a house that makes him more risk averse to undertaking new ventures.

The End of an Era

Ultimately, Minosuke does succeed in moving on with his life; it’s just a shame that they never go into detail how he makes a living and what path he pursues to get there. After all, innovation is a painful process for those whose industries are rendered obsolete by market forces and overcoming such an upending is as equally compelling a story as seeing a person’s rise to prosperity.

2 Responses to “Entrepreneurship in Oji-san no Lamp”

  1. Being able to capture the vehicle of distructive innovation is like capturing lightning in a bottle. You may be able to do it once but chances say you won’t be able to do it the second time. The notion that an entrepeneur can “look towards the advent of this technology as a new frontier” doesn’t sit right with me because often the new piece of technology is so beyond the comprehension of the initial entrepeneur that it’ll be like asking a historian to perform brain surgery. Here, resistance to change is not so much an act of stubbornness or loss of one’s initial enthusiasm as it is a fear driven reaction to something about to kill you. Sure, it’s easy to say that the guy should “innovate” but unless he has exclusive resources like access to distribution or a crapload of cash to simply buy out the new technology, the only road is towards death.

  2. @Shadowmage
    Not sure I agree with that comment in the context of Oji-san no Lamp, mainly because electricity isn’t that huge a jump from oil as both are different types of fuel sources and I’d hope that Minosuke and understand the changes in that context. So in this instance, the innovation should come from cornering the supply on the lightbulb market; he’s already seen what lightbulbs are capable of doing and how to combine it with electricity to make it work. All he has to do now is sell the things to people who have just received the blessings of being on the power grid.

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