Playful Ant 03 – Taichi Sugiura（Inspire High, Inc. / CINRA, Inc. CEO）
In January 2020, Inspire High, online education service for teenagers was newly launched. Through 90 minutes’ live broadcasting and following interactive dialogue, teenagers get inspired through perspectives on work and life shared by uniquely different types of professionals such as a famous poet, an artist, a Maasai elder and a movie director, and passionate opinions among peers of the same generation.
I asked Taichi Sugiura, CEO of Inspire High, Inc. and CINRA, Inc. about why he decided to launch such an unprecedented online education service.
Creating options for more and better coincidences in life
Taichi：The inspiration to start Inspire High came from my own experience that an encounter with a teacher when I was a teenager changed the course of my life. In my high school age, I thought I would pursue a career in music. But a young teacher who came for an educational internship told me, “You could take the time to think about what you want to do at university.” His words led me to decide to go to university, and I became what I am today thanks to that unexpected decision.
At university, Taichi immersed himself not in music, but in creative activities. Together with his friends, he founded Team CINRA, which operated a web magazine. Later he incorporated it and immersed himself in its operation as the representative director. More than a decade later since then, CINRA has become a well-known creative company, managing Japan’s leading culture media “CINRA.NET”.
Life can be changed unexpectedly through unexpected encounters with others. Because he arrived at his current path in an unexpected way, Taichi has always had a strong feeling in his heart that “life is just the result of chance” and “the world cannot be managed by logic alone.”
Taichi：There are many paths in life, and I believe that we are where we are today because we “happened” to choose one of them. In that sense, “not having enough choices” is not good for young people. I believe that meeting new people will expand the range of options available to them. And I hope that many people will be able to live with a sense of healthy confidence and positivity that they are choosing their own lives, especially in their teenage years when the path they choose will have a larger impact on their future. That’s why I decided to start Inspire High where we want to offer teenagers the opportunity to meet unique people who would inspire them in some way.
True diversity lies in each person’s way of life.
The world of the future is even more uncertain and ambiguous. There are educational services that can help you get a stable job or go to a prestigious school, but Inspire High is different from them. With the message of “Expand Your Horizons,” the service inspires children to think about their own ideas on “questions that have no one-fit-for-all answers”.
Taichi：The results of this survey are interesting. In the past, happiness may have been determined by “objectively assessable factors” such as education and annual income. But in the coming age, happiness will be defined as “being in a state where we can subjectively decide for ourselves that this way of life is better for us.” This survey made me think that this is what the 21st century view of happiness is all about. No matter how much you try to accumulate success stories as a result of worrying about evaluation by other people, the real world doesn’t easily go as you plan. I hope that those who will live in the future realize that it is fun to know what they do not know following their own curiosity. Although they may fail at times, I hope that each of them will find his or her own unique way of life while positively accepting themselves. I believe that a society where this can be realized is a truly diverse society.
Active thoughts, though not necessarily logically, lead to action.
In a typical interaction of Inspire High, professionals called “guides” from various professions share their different experiences and world views each time. In response to the questions posed by those guides, the teenagers come up with their own answers and share them with each other. This live and serendipitous interaction is what Inspire High is all about. Though it must be hard to choose a favorite, I asked Taichi what was the most memorable scene for him.
Taichi：I was especially impressed by the scene I witnessed during the session with Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan. Touching on a wide range of topics such as politics and technology, she talked about how society can be changed. The teenagers were inspired and actively asked questions, and she passionately reacted to those questions. Behind the interaction going on so lively, our staff members were interpreting English into Japanese simultaneously and displaying the results on the screen. But inevitably, there was a time lag before the Japanese translation was displayed. In the meantime, the participating teenagers were starting to share comments such as “Damn it, I don’t understand English!” and “I want to learn more!”
The idea that Taichi puts into the word “Inspire” is not only about being “inspired by” as a recipient, but also about being “inspired to” act as a subject.
Taichi：Participants who commented were obviously impressed by Ms. Tang’s talk, but could not fully understand it with their current abilities. Because they recognized this situation, they must have felt from their heart that they want to know more about this amazing world and learn more about this idea. This scene told me that they would be able to take actions on their own once they could just gain the motivation from within.
Taichi happily talked about the moment when children awakened to the joy of learning, but what was it like when he was a teenager with his soft and calm atmosphere?
Taichi：I remember growing up being affirmed by the adults around me. However, my father, who was a business owner, was an unpredictable person and would not praise me even if I got full marks on a school test. Rather, he would often scold me saying “If you keep studying so much, you will not become a good person.” So, as a result of having such a father, I felt threatened and asked myself “Is it really okay if I don’t study?” and I decided to study voluntarily (laugh).
Taichi：I also remember that my father was always full of power and charisma. But because of that, he also made all the decisions on his own, and I think that’s why he was so lonely. While I respected my father a lot, I also regarded him as a role model not to follow in some ways. I think I am very conscious of listening to other people’s opinions, keeping in mind that the right answer must lie “outside” of my knowledge and experience. Even with my own son, I don’t often recommend things to him, but rather take him with me to museums or take him on trips. Through those, I show him a variety of options, and if there is something that interests him, I hope that he will expand his horizon on his own.
Playful ants connecting the invisible
Taichi will soon be 40 years old, an age when one is supposed to be free from vacillation according to traditional wisdom. What is he thinking about now and what’s his take on the future?
Taichi： Instead of being free from vacillation, I’d rather be navigated by many new encounters from now on too until I die (laugh). While owning decision criteria inside of me, I want to keep appreciating the playful sense such as “can I jump in?” or “I want to try.” What I would like to focus more on in the future is to address social issues. By immersing myself into the reality of diversity in society, I want to gain a deeper understanding of people who are in different situations in society and newly acquire perspectives that I don’t currently have. Then, by bringing together various perspectives, I want to be a “connector” who can connect something which seems completely different and irrelevant at first glance but should really be connected to something else. In that sense, though it may sound too big, my ambition is that I would like to continue to play around ways to contribute to world peace.
When I firstly met Taichi at a lunch meeting a few years ago, my impression of him was that he was a brisk and natural person. Though I had assumed that a young CEO of an emerging creative company would have a more guarded attitude, my image was easily betrayed.
“I want to create a new kind of education for the younger generation in the near future.” So, he said quietly but passionately. And I remember intuitively feeling that this kind of person would create values for a new era while making people his friends and supporters. True to his words, Taichi has created Inspire High, an unprecedented online education service. This was not because he was looking for a market opportunity based on growth potential, but because he sincerely wanted to contribute to the creation of a path for the younger generation based on his own real-life experience. In this way, Playful Ants are creating new value not only in the company, but also in society.
While Taichi enjoys his maturity in his 40s, his vision will continue to evolve and take different shapes. I can’t wait to see what kind of values he will install in society as he continues his new challenges with enthusiasm, faithful to his visions, without fear of risk, and without hesitation. And, I am sure that leaders of the next generation, who will be able to make their own life choices based on these values, will improve their own lives and the lives of those around them, thereby realizing “world peace” in a realistic and sustainable way one by one.
Taichi reminds me of a blue flame. Do you know that a blue flame is the hottest regardless of its quiet and unassuming look and feel?
『The Playful Ants that change the world』
In an ant society, you can easily identify the herd of “Worker Ants”—the textbook definition of ants, the ones who continuously carry the food. If you take a closer look, you may notice that there’s a different group of ants walking about playfully in their own world. These are “Playful Ants”—ants and thanks to their curiosity, they at times stumble across an unexpected feeding ground or detect sudden threats in advance allowing them to warn the colony of danger in advance.
In this interview series, I introduce interesting lifestyles and work styles of different “Playful Ants”, in order to help incubate them into this world.
Each human being is as small as an ant. However, if each ant pursues his or her own path purposefully and playfully, that path can connect to an opportunity to explore and create something new. That can turn into the power to change the world in its own way. I’ve come to believe so after spending many years on designing and leading practical innovation projects, and working with many global and Japanese corporations as a consultant.
Yasuhiro Karakawa (Playful Ants Incubator)
With a purpose of “incubating Playful Ants both in the corporations and the society” Yasu has been leading practical innovation projects with global corporations in more than 10 countries while also serving as a strategy advisor and a guest lecturer.