CEO Ken Endo outlines the new vision for Xiborg and reflects on how the pandemic has influenced the company's production methods

  • Ken Endo is the CEO of Xiborg, a company that specializes in creating prosthetic limbs for athletes.
  •  After the 2020 Paramlympic Games in Tokyo were canceled due to the pandemic, Endo decided to rethink the company's mission, and focus more on the development of affordable running blades for everyone, not just athletes.
  • Endo outlines the new vision for Xiborg and reflects on how the pandemic has influenced the company's production methods. 
  • Because of his work, Insider named Endo to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming healthcare in Asia.
  • Visit Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

The spread of COVID-19 has greatly restricted our movement and activities globally. In such a situation, platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft, Amazon, and other companies working on online conferencing, telework, and e-commerce have flexibly responded to people's new lifestyles, and many new business models have been created.

On the other hand, industries that had previously relied on physical services and communication have been badly damaged. Japan has decided to postpone the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the first time in its history, a major event where many people move and gather, and the world is watching the next movement this year. One of the businesses that has been greatly affected is the medical service. As the resources for medical care are stretched to cope with the COVID-19, one major issue is on how to continue essential conventional medical services under such severe restrictions.

For example, we have been promoting the use of sports prostheses, expanding the sporting culture of people with disabilities in order to reduce injustice and promote their well-being as emphasized in the SDGs. Specifically, it was necessary to develop inexpensive blades because the normal blades athletes are using are too expensive for general amputees and they are not supported by insurance in Japan. Beyond the blade development from a technology perspective, we also needed to collaborate with local prosthetic leg clinics, medical institutions, and other organizations to assemble, align the blades for each amputee, and most importantly train amputees how to run with prosthetic legs using those blades. On the other hand, the actual assembly and alignment of the prosthesis is still mainly done by analog methods, such as directly using plasters to make molds, so we had to physically go to the site to provide guidance.

Currently, almost all of these activities are restricted. Although change always involves great risk, we see this as a great opportunity for change. For example, until now, digital technology using 3D scanners and printers in the process of prosthetic leg production has not been used at the field level due to technical issues and high initial costs. As the digitization of processes progresses, the number of things that can be done remotely can be overwhelmingly increased. In industries like this, there are opportunities to create new industries by implementing new technologies that were not introduced before due to technical issues.

However, since this could be a destructive change in the industry, there are multiple challenges and the degree of difficulty is very high. From a micro perspective, remote counterparts such as local prosthetic leg clinics, medical institutions, other organizations for the disability, etc… rarely have enough knowledge and skill in the early stage. In the past, the first option was to have a human being visit the site for the purpose of education, but now, it is necessary to do it remotely.

In this case, a more logical presentation based on data will be needed beyond the trust in communication, and more commitment of the counterparts will be required. It can be said that the attitude of co-creation is more required than that of outsourcing the project.

Instead of meeting in person to build a relationship of trust, the contribution of communication through data and analysis results that can be easily sent will increase. The key will be to minimize the movement of materials and improve efficiency through the movement of data more than ever before. And community involvement is essential to prioritize the project among stakeholders and control motivation.  In the other words, we need our counterparts to have more leadership.

With the explosion of Internet technology and obtainable data, the amount of knowledge available has become overwhelming, and the days when one person could oversee and control an entire industry are done. Instead, it is necessary for many stakeholders to have their own leadership, as in the Distributed Leadership proposed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to them, 'leadership is distributed. That is, leadership is not solely the purview of the CEO, but can and should permeate all levels of the firm.' This leadership is not something we are born with, but something we must learn and acquire beyond our own expertise.

Thus, businesses that have so far relied on the movement of people and materials and the physical gathering of people are being forced to undergo new changes. From a macroscopic perspective, this is an opportunity to improve efficiency by sharing data and analysis results by minimizing the movement of people and objects, and this may be the last chance in this century to greatly innovate a world that has been unable to change because of the great risks involved.

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