David Blecken
Aug 4, 2017

What ‘disruption’ looks like at PwC

In Japan, the company has started employing Zen principles to wake business leaders up to reality.

Eric Matsunaga
Eric Matsunaga

An auditor may not be the first kind of business that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘disruption’. Yet disruptive technology is as relevant to companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as it is to the likes of TBWA (which has built its name on the principle) and Amazon (which has disrupted entire industries seemingly in the blink of an eye).

Like its ‘Big Four’ counterpart Deloitte and other consultants, some in advertising see PwC as a threat that’s turning their once cosy world on its head. Paranoia aside, PwC does have a stake in the future of marketing and to make any meaningful impact, it must understand the very real threats of disruption facing its clients.

The man helping it do that in Japan is Eric Matsunaga, partner of digital and disruptive technology, a position that PwC created in January. He is currently leading the development of an ‘experience centre’, which is set to open in Marunouchi in December.

While Matsunaga has spent 20 years in the consulting world, with stints at Accenture, IBM and Deloitte, he is not a standard ‘suit’. Matsunaga was once much more familiar with the recording studio than the boardroom as a professional musician who studied under guitar heroes such as Steve Vai. He says he left that world behind due to a lack of respect for musicians (as opposed to singers) in Japan. He forged his own path in business, establishing Accenture’s media and entertainment practice.

Is there any more respect for atypical consultants in consulting? Matsunaga’s career has been defined by challenging consulting norms, and he admits it’s not always easy. “I learnt consulting but basically I’m a musician,” he says. “I use the right brain.” In his experience, all consultancies have trouble absorbing creative people into their culture, because they speak different languages. Part of the problem is that (good) creatives from an agency background see things in granular detail while consultants deal in “big visions”. At the same time, consultants typically believe their opinions carry more weight. Consulting firms also tend to apply typical KPIs like billable hours and sales to creatives, which doesn’t work.

Another issue is that “tax guys” still have a hard time understanding what digital business means. Some think it means computing, others think it means digital marketing. But Matsunaga says PwC defines it as disruption, meaning anything with the potential to upend the accepted order of things. The biggest competitor for most established clients, he notes, is the millennial generation. Where most companies still believe in a step-by-step approach and ‘best practice’, millenials clearly don’t. “They focus on whether they like something, or if it feels good or not,” he says. His aim is to transfer that mindset to both PwC executives and clients.

Matsunaga leads what he calls “catalyst sessions”. He takes inspiration from Zen to tackle business problems: to gain any form of enlightenment, the participant must forget past successes and prejudices. The process follows three stages, including scanning (which removes the baggage of the past), focusing (which explores future solutions, and action (which involves devising a workable plan). Most people have particular trouble with the first part, Matsunaga says. In one effort to change people’s thought process, he showed how hunting by early man gave way to the invention of music.

The latter stage is crucial, lest people forget everything over post-session drinks. But the key point is to develop solutions that concentrate on the future and are fresh and unexpected. People “have to understand that disruption is already happening,” Matsunaga says. “There is no financial industry any more. Most people think banks are financial. Lawson and 7-Eleven are convenience stores. But they have banks too. How about Sony? They have a bank. The financial industry is broken but most CEOs can’t understand. Every industry is already disrupted. If they understand this, then they’re more flexible to do new business.”

This is part of a series on diverse and unconventional creative processes in Japan and their application to branding and marketing.

This story appeared first on Campaign Japan: 新時代のクリエイティブプロセス 〜 PwCにとっての「破壊的革新」

Campaign Japan

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