People Stories

Experiment Fast and Take Control: Lessons Learned From Building a Startup | Moon Alumni Interview

03/24/2023

This is the blog of an interview series featuring employees from Mitsui & Co. Ltd., who were seconded to Moon Creative Lab to work on new business ventures. These Moon alumni share their experiences as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) while at Moon and the knowledge they’ve brought back to Mitsui.

This interview is with Anna Hiraoka, who has been successfully managing a series of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives at Mitsui. Anna shares her experience:

 

  • Discovering strength through design research
  • Connecting team members with a coloring book project 
  • Using visualization to foster culture with acknowledgement
  • Gaining driving force after experiencing pivots 

 

Discovering strength through design research

Anna is currently a member of the Diversity Management Dept. of Mitsui's Human Resources & General Affairs Division (HR), where she has been initiating various types of in-house initiatives. After working on hospital investment projects within the Wellness Business Unit (BU) at Mitsui, she was seconded to Moon from October 2018 to September 2021 to focus on a healthcare venture. Due to the business pivot and the pandemic, her own venture eventually folded and her time at Moon came to an end. Anna returned to Mitsui and transferred to HR in April 2022.

While at Moon, Anna began working on design research for business creation in collaboration with IDEO, a design consulting firm. In her very first working session, she realized that visualization is her strength.

 

"At IDEO, drawing pictures and visualizing ideas as they discuss is very common, but that was not the case in the past experience at Mitsui. That’s why I was surprised to find myself being comfortable with that practice. That’s when I realized this might be my strength." 
-A.H. 

 

Anna says she always had a habit of taking notes with some drawings and putting them on her desk even before coming to Moon. She even has a vision board at home to put ideas together and organize what’s on her mind.

After working with IDEO, she has honed her visualization skills even further. Now, she practices graphic recordings* to compile information at meetings, structure web pages using design tools, and design a sticker of her own vision. She has learned to use visualization in a variety of ways to help team members communicate intuitively.

*Graphic recording: a method of discovering insights and stimulating discussion by translating conversations or presentations into text and pictures in real-time.

Connecting team members with a coloring book project

One of the successful examples of Anna’s visual communication was "Color Our Vision," which she started when she returned to Mitsui's Wellness BU. Due to the pandemic, team members had fewer opportunities of working together, making it difficult to get to know each other and share the same core values and strategies.

To tackle this challenge, she proposed to print out the graphic image of BU strategy on a huge paper, asking everyone to color it during their break. Since most people worked from home, the office was fairly empty and turned it into a small gathering corner. Over the course of a month, the poster was coloured by many people, showcasing their unique personalities through how they colored. This initiative created an opportunity for team members to spontaneously connect and talk to one another. Everyone loved this project and it continued to be a success.

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Team members colored and added drawings to the BU strategy poster.

Anna also came up with "Acknowledge Month" which recognizes members who understand and practice the core values of the BU. She designed stickers representing five core values, and members were encouraged to give out the stickers to those who embodied each value with a handwritten acknowledgement message on its back.This was an easy way to participate and created many new conversations amongst the BU.

These initiatives using visualization created a positive impact on other activities as well. For example, at a Pecha-Kucha meet-up, Anna invited members she had met through the coloring book project, creating another opportunity for colleagues to connect outside of work by sharing their passions such as drawing and flower arrangement.

Since Anna was coming up with a series of unique projects, her manager asked her if she was interested in expanding the work she had been doing beyond BU. Anna’s ability to foster a culture was recognized as an essential skill that the company would continue to need, and she started to consider moving to HR where she thought may lead her to expand her expertise.

Anna’s greatest vision is to design an inclusive and creative environment where people can thrive on a global scale. In December 2021, she pitched herself to the Human Resources and General Affairs Division, just like how she pitched her project to Moon. In April of the following year, she was offered a position at Diversity Management Dept. within HR.

Using visualization to foster culture

In March 2022, just before her transfer to HR, Anna organized an event to embrace International Women's Day with team members from Moon. During the event, she set up a booth and asked supporters to put stickers on a poster with a jar drawn which she called an allyship jar, if they believed in supporting gender equality in this world. This created a quick visual of how many supporters also known as allies of gender equality there were in the company.

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For International Women's Day, Anna visualized the number of supporters in the company with stickers.

The team asked visitors to share the names of the women in their life that inspire them most by writing them on a board and taking pictures with a crossed-hand pose that embodied the "BreakTheBias" theme of that year's International Women's Day. They posted nearly 100 pictures with booth visitors on the wall. Booth visitors also received a purple mask, which was the event's theme color. These masks gathered people's attention in the office and helped spread the word quickly and widely.

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International Women’s Day event organizers.

At the same time, the team took pictures at the booth and shared them on internal SNS along with #BreakTheBias to share the importance of recognizing our prejudices.

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Sticker designed by Anna, representing her vision. Different shapes in seven colors are put together to shape a dinosaur which represents human’s unique and crucial skill of curiosity. 

In June, Anna hosted another event with team members from Moon to talk about LGBTQIA+ allyship and what can we do as allies during Pride Month. 

Anna designed stickers with rainbow-colored dinosaurs for this special event, as she picked up a voice from the audience that they wanted something visual to show that they are allies, and she explained why she initially created the sticker. 

 

"It is important to make things visible to be recognized and to be remembered" -A.H.

 

In September, Anna led the planning and hosting of a company-wide Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Week event, partnering with Moon to host a workshop on the theme of "Shared Leadership” to promote D&I. 

Around 500 participants from 25 countries attended the event virtually. For this event, Anna created a dedicated internal web page where she shared research findings by Rikkyo University and interview articles of Mitsui employees.

In the workshop, Anna helped participants to deepen their understanding of shared leadership by posting their personal experiences as examples online using an interactive tool. This was another way for Anna to help visualize complex ideas that cannot be explained simply.

With her visualization skills, Anna has made her ideas come to life and at the same time, empowered those around her. She credits the core values and learning how to pivot at Moon as her driving force. 

Gaining driving force after experiencing pivots

Anna was very excited when she was first seconded to Moon. She was involved in the development of a service that would enable AI-based early detection of cancer and worked with experts in various fields in a fast-paced environment, where she had to continue researching and reporting to pass an project assessment every three months.

At Moon, Anna experienced not only design thinking but also a pivot in business direction.

While at Moon, Anna proposed a new online consultation platform for pets to expand her business model. However, despite confirming user needs through research in the United States and gaining support from academic societies and veterinarians, she and her team were unable to conduct online consultation tests with veterinarians and pet owners due to legal restrictions. And the immediate impact of the pandemic made it even more difficult to continue the project.

After that, the team made the decision to focus on the development of AI-based early detection of cancer services for humans and looked for what they could do remotely. They built an operation and management system needed to continue the research from Japan, but there was still a limit on things that could be done online. “I couldn’t do anything even if I wanted to,” which Anna said was the hardest thing at the time.

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The loneliness and psychological burden Anna felt when leading the project as a solo Idea Owner made her more aware of the need to support everyone in the company. Anna realized the importance of organizational development and promoting inclusion and pitched her vision to strengthen her expertise in HR.

Anna says it was only after she was transferred to her current department that she started seeing the positive side of a series of challenges.

 

"When I look back on myself having a hard time, I think I was too focused on one ideal scenario from the beginning. It's important to instead focus on your vision and celebrate what you have learned from the unexpected outcomes, and connecting it to the next step is even more important. I couldn’t realize that even after one or two pivots, but now I feel that my experience at Moon is giving me the driving force. Maybe I've grown up a little bit."

 

Anna says, “The more you want to achieve the goal, the more painful it is when your ideas are not recognized. Your ideas and approach might not always be the company's priorities.”  However, Anna says, “I try to think that there are always allies who will support me, and people are not criticizing you for being a great artist. It is more directed towards your art piece that might need more work, so embrace others’ ideas too, and turn the feedback into making your art piece an even better one.” 

 

"I'm always keeping Moon's five values in my mind. Take ‘experiment fast’ for example. It's important to start small and fast. If it seems like it’s working, you can scale that up. And then there's ‘stretch your comfort zone.’ I feel that our company is constantly evolving, and I want to be that driving force. I want to aim for a culture-add, not a culture fit." -A.H. 

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