Social gathering and schooling after COVID-19. A conversation with Taichi Sugiura and Yu Miura.

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The spread of the new coronavirus has brought about many changes in the world. While serious life-threatening situations such as the collapse of the medical system, regional and economic disparities continue, some changes are also seen in working styles and education.

The online school "Inspire High," in which Shiseido's Creative Director Yu Miura participated, was also influenced by the changes. This service, jointly run by creative company CINRA, provides a place for teenagers to interact and learn with creators and researchers in each genre acting as guides. On May 10th, in order to keep the proper social distance, Miura held an online session at home with teenagers across Japan. Although it was an unfamiliar situation, such an irregular environment seems to have created a new learning opportunity for the participants.

Under the facilitation of Shinya Miyazaki, staff member of "Inspire High," Taichi Sugiura, the representative of the service, and Yu Miura held an online session to discuss on communication and learning opportunities in the times of COVID-19.

From the moment "Inspire High" started, no one was on the sidelines, and there was already an environment where everyone was participating. I felt it to be the epitome of society. (Miura)

※This conversation took place 19 June 2020.

Miyazaki Mr. Miura, when you participated, we had to have a remote session due to the influence of COVID-19. Can you give us your impression of the session?

Yu Miura's session digest

Yu Miura

Miura I had various impressions, but what stood out was that I didn't come in as "an instructor." At "Inspire High" us guests are called "guides," and are literally provide guidance, not as lecturers or teachers who communicate unilaterally. For this reason, in fact, I was able to learn a lot too from from the teenagers.

Miyazaki Participants sent in photos under the theme of "finding beautiful things."

Miura I expected that there would be various perspectives, but I was surprised that all the photos were taken from truly pure perspectives. In the session, I talked about "intuition" because I believe that intuition has the power to move people. S/he may not even think of it as their "intuition" but their photos directly convey many things nonverbally.

Also, since it was held online, the exchanges were mainly done through messages and occasionally through voices, and because of that the participants’ ages were not revealed. Also thanks to Mr. Shimizu as the navigator, we adults did not talk unilaterally. It allowed us to have an open discussion which would have been difficult in a lecture.

Miyazaki Mr. Miura, I remember you mentioning "It would be necessary to really be present with students, especially with younger generations." I feel that a lecture format inevitably creates position gaps such as "teachers" and "students."

Miura The same can be said for workplaces. In meetings it takes time to motivate everyone to participate. But from the moment "Inspire High" started, no one was on the sidelines, and there was already an environment where everyone was participating. This attitude moves the discussion forward and is necessary in society as well. I felt that "Inspire High" was a great example of an ideal environment.

Sugiura Thank you very much for saying that.

Miyazaki Mr. Sugiura, you were also looking to create such an environment, right?

Sugiura Yes, I had that kind of ideal in mind. I've been searching for it for a while, and I feel that it has finally come true.

At the very beginning, although we were thinking of calling our guests as guides, we were seeing them rather as instructors. Of course, the guide need to be someone who are more knowledgeable in some field than we are. But, the position of the instructor tends to make people do one-way communication. So we were discussing whether that type of communication style is appropriate for learning.

Taichi Sugiura (CINRA / Inspire High)

Miyazaki When we were launching "Inspire High," you said that we don't want to make it look like TED (an American media service that distributes influential videos from expert speakers.) Of course, TED has some good sides too, but we came to the conclusion that there may be a better learning opportunity when we do not place spotlight only on specific individuals.

Sugiura That's right. It was also good that the session with Mr. Miura was delivered online from his own home. Every time the room got excited over something, Mr. Miura pulled out books from various places. I was inspired by that. After the session I also bought "History of Numbers" Sogensha (laughs)!

Miura Yes, I feel that the office we usually work at is like a "box" and there is nothing in it. But there are many things at home that inspire me when I do creative work. That is why it was great to work from home. I think that sources of inspiration can be found within the 3 meter radius.

I designed [the school] so that participants wouldn't be evaluated numerically. Thanks to that, I think we were able to create a good community where everyone respects each other. (Sugiura)

Miyazaki I also think that our experiences of researching many overseas educational practices greatly influenced "Inspire High."

Sugiura Our slogan is "Expand Your Horizons." and I was thinking from the beginning that I want to expand individual worlds to the fullest. I think everyone has a desire to expand their world, but it's quite accidental to encounter the "switch" and "curiosity" that trigger them. That's why our purpose was to create a place where such an opportunity would arise. In the fields of pedagogy or neurology, "switching" mechanisms are being studied and we have traveled around the world to research about it.

"Inspire High" is an online school for young adults aged 13-19 who face unanswered questions. Through live streaming sessions held every other Sunday, students think about and share unanswered questions with creative adults such as artists, entrepreneurs, and researchers who otherwise would have few opportunities to interact with each other. It is a service that you can participate from anywhere as long as you have a smartphone and internet access.(Go to site

Sugiura For example, "KAOSPILOT" in Denmark is an entrepreneurship training school centered focused on creativity, located in Aarhus, a few hours by train from Copenhagen. The school has been around for about 25 years with the mission of innovation. What I found interesting was what Principal Christer Vindallitz Sirius said. In this school, feedback to students is given upon the students’ permission.

Miura I see.

Sugiura At any school, students are told "You should be doing this and that." It's like giving instructions are considered as the job of teachers. But at KAOSPILOT, teachers ask students whether it was a good timing to give them feedback or not. If the student says "no," teachers don't give any feedback. So the idea is that feedback is for the students, and so it shouldn't be given when they are not willing to accept it. Such a relationship can happen because teachers believe in the independence and the growth of that student.

Miura That's interesting. I used to attend a business school at Stanford Graduate School in the United States under a Shiseido program. There were various courses, but the most interesting one was the class taught by the Broadway stage manager. He taught us the basics of the human relationships. He said that even if we are in the position of managing in a company, we should first understand how to communicate with others. For example, he taught us "what could be considered as a condescending attitude." He also taught us the importance of really seeing, feeling, and interacting with the other person. I think this thinking has a connection with what Mr. Sugiura has just talked about.

Sugiura In terms of building relationships, I learned a lot from the "Millennium School" in San Francisco. This school is equivalent to a junior high school in Japan, and the students there are asked to evaluate themselves. For example, the students are asked "How critical do you think you are?" then they evaluate themselves. After that the teacher sees the answer and adds his or her opinions. There are some Japanese companies doing the same thing, but it was interesting to let junior high school students do it. They look back on their own degree of criticism, curiosity, and other factors that cannot be quantified. I felt that in such an environment, many people with interesting thoughts will grow up naturally.

Initially, there was also a plan to adopt a gamification-like element for "Inspire High" so that you can get points if you have a high degree of participation or give a lot of feedback. However a reward system can be poison that causes the loss of participants’ independence in a learning process. Some junior and senior high school students have a strong sense of competition and they may try to be better than others. That's why I designed it so that participants wouldn't be evaluated numerically. Thanks to that, I think we were able to create a good community where everyone respects each other without having a sense of hierarchy.

KAOSPILOT during break time between classes
Millennium school class

Miura I think it's a more open approach, rather than closed. I have a child in elementary school, and because of COVID-19, she is taking classes remotely from home. She's quite positive about it.

Her morning begins with e-learning on tablet. She receives morning messages from her teacher and then does a quick study. I can also listen to the teacher with my child and see what she's doing that day. Because of this situation my home has become like a very open educational setting. Occasionally, I accidentally get visible on a screen when she's having a ZOOM class. (laughs)

Up until now, I had only met with her homeroom teacher at the entrance ceremony or on sports day. Parents' relationship with the teacher was almost zero, but now with the remote class happening, you are more acquainted with the educational environment as well as teacher's personality. The openness of this educational environment is groundbreaking. I think the benefits of a Terakoya-like local community like have been revived.

Every company has its own culture, and we realize that through outsider perspectives. Individuality is impacted by various interactions and encounters.

Miyazaki Are there any new opportunities for learning or education at Shiseido?

Miura Recently, Shiseido has been actively implementing overseas trainings and online programs at business schools as I mentioned earlier. It is education, but at the same time, I think it is an opportunity for us to learn how to utilize Shiseido's own DNA. Therefore, I take it not as a lecture, but as a an opportunity to have open discussion.

Sugiura Speaking of Shiseido, you have a tradition of creative learning, such as hand-drawing typefaces, right?

Miura You're talking about Shiseido typefaces and arabesque, right? Of course, we have opportunities to practice writing and drawing them, but it's not like we need to learn how to write or draw them properly. Actually, there's no such thing as "proper" Shiseido arabesque. It is more a process of receiving the ideas and concepts from our predecessors and deepening our own understanding about it. Shiseido arabesque is a hybrid of the East and the West. It is a visualization of vitality, which is a meme of communication, an ecosystem of ever-evolving beauty.

Shiseido Typeface「美と、あそびま書。」(Typing with Beauty)

Sugiura From the perspective of an outsider like myself, I think that this gradual accumulation and communication approach make Shiseido unique. On the surface, Shiseido typeface and arabesque may look like concrete shapes, but they are not just shapes. Since I run a company, I understand that a company is usually driven by business performance and mission goals. However, everyone at Shiseido carry something different from it. I think Shiseido typeface and arabesque are elements that are shaping "Shiseido-ness," like a motto.

Miura I also sense that CINRA has "CINRA-ness." Every company has its own culture, and we realize that through outsider perspectives. Individuality is impacted by various interactions and encounters with various people. By the way, having discussed with Mr. Sugiura today, I feel like I was able to get a grasp of CINRA's core uniqueness (laughs.)

Sugiura Is that so? I don't see myself so "CINRA-like" though (laughs.)

Miura I think it's hard to describe "likeness."

Sugiura Each company's individuality or "likeness" is lost over a long period of time. That's why I am very curious about the Shiseido, which has inherited that tradition for over 100 years whilst evolving it.

Younger generations are looking to see something more exciting. I think they are looking for something that even the one creating cannot foresee. (Sugiura)

Miura But now, in Shiseido's 150-year history, we may be entering an era of quite drastic change. Talking in a remote environment like this is quite a change, isn't it? It is changing relationships.

Miyazaki At "Inspire High", we sometimes set a breakout time where participants can interact with each other. The other day, people were coming from Ehime, Nara, and Tokyo. When we held this session, the participants were eager to talk about the "Black Lives Matter" movement. They were discussing how to respond to such movements or changes seen in the natural environment. Then when I asked participants' age, it turned out that they are in the third grade of junior high school, the first grade of high school, and the third grade of high school. Everyone was surprised that there was a big age gaps, but we didn't feel any age differences in their communication because they are talking age-bias-free.

Sugiura When I witness such interactions, I realize that we live in era where we can overcome differences in languages and cultures and even borders.

Miura At first, I was planning log into the session from the Shiseido office. But if I had done the session from a company office, I think I would have been speaking from a perspective of a "company person" or "Shiseido person". But because I participated from home, I was also able to show my own identity. My home is my own place and where I can demonstrate my responsibility as a parent, so I'm rather conscious that I can't say anything inappropriate to teenagers. Of course, even at the company, I don't say anything inappropriate...maybe (laughs.)

Sugiura I think what is important in current creative is not only the quality but also a sense of authenticity. High quality lesson can be guaranteed if someone says "Let's welcome Mr. Miura-san from Shiseido!" But in an environment where you cannot set the highest quality recording, image making, proper sound or lighting system, everything looks more real and authentic.

It's even better if Mr. Miura himself held the phone and the camera view shakes by accident, for example. I think people viewing it would be much more interested to see spontaneity. I think this should be the way of future creative and communication.

Miura It makes sense from the perspective of production as well. Even when we perfectly set everything before the shoot, sometimes unexpected things happen at the site. These accidents can result in something positive.

Sugiura I think that people are used to seeing something superficially beautiful. In a sense, younger generations are looking to see something more exciting. I think they are looking for something that even the one creating cannot foresee.

Miura In other words, what is important is the match between context and expression. If our expression matches the context of the times when everyone uses smartphones, we can send out messages that go beyond superficial quality. I now understand why the photos sent from the participants looked so wonderful. It's because their expressions aligned with the context.

 

Profiles
  • Taichi Sugiura | Founder CINRA, Inc.
    Founder and CEO of CINRA, Inc. Born 1982 in Tokyo. Launched online media CINRA which started as a company in 2006 with concentration on in-house media management and digital marketing. In February 2020, Sugiura founded "Inspire High" for younger generation of ages 13-19, with the mission of "Changing people. Imaginations for the world."
  • Yu Miura | Creative Director
    Joined Shiseido after graduating from Department of Design, Tokyo University of the Arts. Resided in NY and Paris 2014-2017. Creative Director of Brand SHISEIDO global campaign 2017-2019. As of 2020, oversees MAQuillAGE and corporate communications. Recipient of Mainichi Ad Design Award / Tokyo Newspaper Ad Award / Ad Dentsu Award / China International Ad Award / APA Award / DSA Award Gold / if Design Award Gold / FRAME Design Award Gold / One Show Bronze.
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