The innovative wizard of Sony


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Nobutoshi Kihara, the man behind most of Sony’s wildly successful consumer products recently passed away on February 13th. He was 84 and spent his entire career with Sony. Known by many as “the wizard of Sony” because of his engineering prowess, Kihara was the genius behind some of Sony’s most innovative products. His early work on transistor radios and the miniaturization of components made Sony a household name and Japan the world’s leading electronics maker.

According to The Telegraph of London:

Tape recorders and radios were then cumbersome, power-thirsty and too expensive for widespread use. When Sony’s founders realized that to attract customers they needed to shrink the devices, make them affordable and reduce their power consumption, they called on Kihara .

Though a simple concept, this was extremely difficult to achieve. Many suppliers of components complained that it was impossible to shrink parts to the extent that finished devices could be carried around effortlessly. But, urged on by Kihara, many eventually managed it, spawning an engineering revolution not just at Sony but also across a whole network of Japanese companies.

After developing Japan’s first tape recorder and magnetic recording tape, a compact audio cassette and Japan’s first transistor radio, Kihara addressed another major challenge of the emerging consumer electronics field — creating videotape and videotape recorders (VTR), and then (most difficult of all) the technology to record broadcasts in colour.

Kihara came up with a VTR prototype in 1958 and then developed a slimmed-down version for the home market in 1965, which led to the invention of the cassette-like Betamax system 10 years later. Soon video recorders were in every home.

And while the Betamax would lose out (in somewhat spectacular fashion) to rival fomat VHS, Sony remained strong and entered what some called “its golden period” as their consumer products became global success stories–all the result of the innovative transistorization and miniaturization groundwork created by Kihara.

Kihara retired from Sony in 2006 and then helped establish the Sony-Kihara Research Centre in Tokyo, a laboratory dedicated to finding innovative ways to use today’s modern digital applications.

Here’s the takeaway: Kihara once said that his role was to “break through what is common sense and common knowledge, and make the impossible possible.” Throughout his sixty years at Sony, he certainly did that…and more.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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