Intercultural Communication Center (ICC)Waseda University

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Changing the World through Ideas – Dentsu & ICC: Creative Workshop & Competition “Japan Inspiration Cup” –

pic130620Isshin Teshima
1st year, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies

Everybody at one point or another in their lives wishes they could change the world for the better, but few of us ever get the opportunity to actually make a difference. The world is a complex place after all, and what good can one idea do in a sea of problems?

Well, if I learned anything from the Dentsu&ICC Competition held at Waseda in November, a lot…apparently.

pic130620-2Social Design, as we learned through our mentor Mr. Fukui of Dentsu, Inc., is a relatively new field of marketing and advertising which is aimed at creating simple ideas that could better society as a whole.

For example, coming out of the Tokyo subway, do you ever take the stairs? It’s okay to say “rarely” or “sometimes”, I assure you a majority of us would be in agreement (me included). But what if there was a light up keyboard on the stairs with each step making a different note? Suddenly, taking the stairs is fun, encouraging you to exercise, and before you know it, you have more people taking the stairs and being healthy as a bonus.

This concept is what we call social design: designing simple ideas for the betterment of society as a whole.

During the competition, we were encouraged to come up with our own idea of social design aimed at making the world a better place. Our mission was actually quite simple. We were to brainstorm a social problem plaguing the world and to come up with a simple solution that would solve it.

Of course, as I soon learned, creating “simple” ideas was not as simple as it sounded. What exactly is a problem? Is a problem for me necessarily a social problem for others? At first, it seemed like my mind was filled with “problems” but not necessarily enough simple solutions to deal with the issues.

pic130620-3For me, my idea ironically came as I was buying a soda from the vending machine near my dorm. As a bilingual speaker, I had just been talking with a friend about differences in foreign language ability between the US and Japan. In Japan, people’s knowledge of English was amazing, but when it came to pronunciation, things were a bit lacking. Of course, that makes sense; with any language, unless you’re in an environment where you have to speak that language 24/7, your mind will never get the chance to refine pronunciation.

And then it hit me. Why not make language learning “fun” by turning it into a game? And better yet, use vending machines as a medium so that you can have some sort of monetary award? Thus the idea of the “foreign language vending machine” came into fruition.

The basic idea is this: when someone buys a drink at a vending machine, an option appears to play a game for a discount. The machine then will cite a random phrase in a foreign language (i.e. “I’d like to buy a Coke!”) and the buyer would have to repeat the phrase, upon which the machine would judge the accuracy of the pronunciation like a game of karaoke. Score higher than 70% accuracy and the buyer gets 20 yen off his/her drink.

It’s a simple idea. Buy a drink, play a game, save some money, and improve your foreign language skills as a result!

Of course, like all ideas, there are pros and cons to this one as well. But given the technology currently available in Japan, I genuinely thought this could be the most feasible and could also have the most potential to better the foreign language ability of Japanese people, and perhaps later, the world as well.

pic130620-4Ultimately, although this idea managed to win boththe Student Selection and Dentsu Creator Awardsfor the English-language portion of the competition, whether my idea will be adopted or not is still up in the air. Dentsu would have to find a suitable client with the funds and the willingness to challenge this idea…

But for me, the possibility of my idea becoming reality was not what I found most interesting about this competition. For me, I saw this competition as a rather welcome mind-exercise, a test to see whether I could “think outside the box” and be creative with my social design idea.

In the end, we got an opportunity that few people ever experience: the chance to make a difference in the world through ideas. It was just a matter of grasping it.

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