The “Playful Worker”-- a Producer in Pursuit of a 21st Century Work Style



Mr. Ise Osamu, a.k.a. the Playful Worker, is an active producer of smartphone applications.  After a stint at Nippon Television Network as the creator of Super Zoom-in, he worked as a mobile media planner for OPT. He co-founded HALO in 2008, and is currently busy juggling his time as a board of director for Omoroki,  Karyusha, and Roadie, and as the CEO of PLAY Co., Ltd.He has produced more than ten services since he started his business nine years ago. “One Caption, One Picture Bokete” (bokete for short), Japan’s hilarious and largest ”Ogiri” game app, and ViRATES (pirate), a news provider for social media,  are just some of his ventures. With Ise’s brilliance and knack for entrepreneurship, he transforms wily ideas into reality. Just how does he read the air and use it to fuel his imagination? We’ll also find out what was on his mind when he came up with his title Playful Worker.

-- You currently hold executive positions at four different companies, and you seem to be taking on new challenges all the time.

I always emphasize working with interesting people which makes it seem like I’m working across multiple companies at the same time. What consistently fascinates me is helping people realize what they can do with their feelings and exciting ideas. Actually, I don’t really feel that I’m working with a lot of different companies.  Even if I work for, say, just one company, I think that it is normal to handle multiple projects at the same time, so it is almost the same feeling.

-- From all the work you’ve done so far, which production left a lasting impression on you?

In terms of impact, it would be "On Caption, One Picture Bokete" by Omoroki. It is a user participation service where users can post humorous captions from the web and through apps. Our aim is to provide a new means of communication based on the expression of laughter.

This Bokete service started in 2008. It was a web service that another colleague


and  it wasn’t yet much of a hit when I joined in 2012. Back then, I thought that an element of laughter would be a game changer on Instagram. That’s when I sensed Bokete’s huge potential. While I was contemplating strategy, smartphones were starting to rapidly gain popularity in Japan. I noticed that this concept could be easily become a hit by launching it as an application. After that, the app features were tweaked many times based on user reactions.  As of February 2017, the app reached 5 million downloads. It was an exhilarating experience, it felt like as if I was a producer of some talented indie band.

-- What other factors do you think lead to it being such a huge hit?

Aside from being blessed with good timing, we kept in mind that we were providing services not only to those with a finely-tuned sense of humor, but to all users. I have some experience in the television industry, so it was a similar feeling to when I would shift a late-night TV program to daytime.  Of course, the cool and hip image might be on stake, but in the long run, we wanted our service to be enjoyed by both young and old alike. It’s nice to provide an innovative service with a wink-wink “Understood only by those who understand ”stance. But the thing about that is, I’m no great artist and my values are much closer to the general norm. Ultimately, I think it would do more justice in providing a service that is appealing to the overall public instead of a niche.

-- How do you polish your ability to foresee trends?

My daily conversation with colleagues or friends are often along topics like "These types of activities are kind of taking off..." or "Will society behave like this after the Singularity?"  I very much enjoy discussions predicting the future of human society. 

Entertainment tends to be trivialised as mere amusement-- something you don’t really need in order to survive. In reality, however, it is indispensably rooted in our essence as humans. For instance, the laughter that Bokate can induce is the best medicine, is it not? 

In other words, "human beings" are the foundation of entertainment and putting focal point on this as society evolves is what is important. So, when my colleagues and I discuss topics along these lines, new service concepts seem to pop up naturally.

As AI and robots start to play a bigger part in our lives, many of the tasks carried out by humans will be replaced by AI and other technology in the future. As a consequence,  I think that the demand for human elements like pleasure, creation, and play will become stronger. Things like play and recreation are what make us humans after all.  A robot won’t  start to play for pure enjoyment. I take these theories in so seriously because I’m influenced by many philosophical people around me (*laugh*).

-- I am amazed by the idea that play and recreation are the human essence. How do you improve your creativity and planning skills?

I value three things, "reading books, traveling, and meeting people". When I was about 24 or 25, I read around a hundred books in one year and even wrote book reviews for services such as BookLog. 

As for my travels, I went to Dubai, India, Thailand, and South Korea last year. I feel traveling on a regular bases, once every two months, really helps me think of new ideas and leave  a positive impact on my work. Since many ideas are born from conversations with people, I try to go out of my way to interact. 

Also, I firmly believe in the saying “Your ideas are proportional to the distance you’ve traveled”. The farther you physically move, even by train, the more you experience different environments. The new information is input naturally through your senses and will leave a lasting impression.

 Part 2 coming soon.