To Win the Innovation Race

by Paul Hobcraft

To Win the Innovation RaceThere are times when we all have to “up our game”. We are entering one of those periods where we have to relearn how to compete, how to win. The world is in the throes of some dramatic changes and the innovation gloves have to come off. Innovation capacity in many countries needs a new, more robust solution as we are in a race of our lives, based on innovation engagement.

Risk-aversion is dominating our Western thinking

The present situation is that we are in a period of risk-aversion where the innovation ‘bets’ are more incremental, more short-term pushing for greater utilization of existing assets whereas we need to design a stimulus that create jobs and investment capital across longer-term horizons than we see today.

So are we all getting our jackets off?

Let’s firstly go where the jackets have already come off with a far more substantial set of proposals to “win” this innovation race. Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington DC-based technology policy think tank along with Stephen Ezell have explored this innovation dilemma in their book “Innovation Economics- the race for global advantage” (released in September 2012) and offer a web site on this whole area

Within the book, the web site and ITIF they outline the arguments for significant innovation change and provide many sensible solutions to win the innovation race. They have put these under the eight “Is” needed and cover each one in a chapter.

These are under the following (organizing) headings:

Inspiration. Setting Ambitious Goals

Intention: Make innovation-based competitiveness a National Priority

Insight: Improving understanding of innovation performance

Incentives: Encouraging innovation, production and jobs IN the United States

Investment: More public funding for Innovation and Productivity

Institutional Innovation: Doing new things in new ways

Information Technology Transformation: broaden the IT transformation base

International Framework for Innovation: Everyone plays by the same rules.

Key digital platform technologies are places for real job creation also

They (ITIF) also suggest there are at least six key digital platform technologies today that need significant longer-term capital investment. These are broadband- the critical enabler, next-generation wireless communications that speeds it all up, health IT for easier access to a comprehensive view of patients, intelligent transportation systems for real-time intelligence, a smart electric grid to ‘sense’ location of power, contactless mobile payments to use their cell (or mobile) to pay across society. They quiet rightly suggest without Government help to catalyse deployment of these platforms progress will be slow.

Then we have “Innovation Economics” as a growing doctrine

The book and Wikipedia I would think have the same source but the Wikipedia source does provide a terrific outline of this growing doctrine that is suggested should reformulate conventional economics theory so that knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation become positioned at the centre of a model, and not independent forces trying to influence it.

Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity

In January 2012 a report came out from the U.S Department of Commerce in association with the National Economic Council entitled “U.S. Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity. This report may be a long read of 160 pages but lays out many ways of “Moving Forward” across a well laid out set of the parts that make up the innovation context

These steps suggested include 1) rising to the challenge, 2) the keys to innovation, competitiveness and jobs, 3) Federal support for research and development, 4)Educating our work force, 5) Infrastructure for the 21st Century, 6) Revitalizing Manufacturing, 7) The Private Sector as the Engine of Innovation to offer a fairy comprehensive evaluation of the issues, challenges and investment opportunities to bring about a more “empowering innovation”.

Again within this report in their “Moving Forward” suggestion lies ten recommendations or factors that are suggested as ways for the United States (or even Europe) to regain a pre-eminent capacity within innovation.

It is a race each country engaged in innovation activity will want to win as this building of innovation capacity is the bedrock of economic growth and future prosperity. Otherwise, if we fail to grab this fully, we will face continued decline, short-term disruption and long-term stagnation.

Jobs can be created; our skills need adapting and refining

Of course everyone will continue to need a basic education or knowledge but they will need sharpening the skills and their motivation more. When we lack motivation, we lack that curiosity that becomes so important to innovation. The intrinsic parts of being curious, persistent and willing to take risks needs to be instilled into our education and thinking.

Need a job? Invent It.

Thomas L Friedman offered a view in a New York article piece “Need a job? Invent it” suggesting these are dangerous times where high-wage, middle-skilled jobs – those sustaining our past economies – are in the past. These have become only high-wage, high-skilled to recalibrate this middle-class and their dependency.

The article further explores the view of Tony Wagner, a Harvard education specialist, that we need to send out every child as “innovation ready”, ready to add value to whatever they do. Wagner argues “the capacity to innovate – the ability to solve problems creatively, or bring new possibilities to life – needs these skills of critical thinking, communication and collaboration and are far more important to meet today’s challenges than academic knowledge”.

Who is putting in place those stronger foundations within this innovation race?

The race is truly on, it is about who organises the relevant conditions to allow innovation to thrive, to offer the place where “empowering innovation” and where jobs are part of the equation.

There are examples in Europe- not just in Finland, Norway, and Sweden but in Switzerland, parts of Germany, regions of Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and the UK. They benefit but equally suffer from centrally driven policies ‘handed down from Brussels at the EU level or constrained in “restrictive” thinking at National level. Many of these “selected” places are simply “pockets of innovation” and lack this cohesiveness and coordination to really accelerate innovation into far more “empowering” to benefit society as a whole.

The BRICS of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are the emerging group are all developing or newly industrialised countries, distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies. These are the emerging new superpowers where they are experimenting but laying in the necessary building blocks to support and accelerate innovation. They are sucking in the capital and provide the horsepower in people, both those that have gained from a focus in high skilled areas and those with basic education. These combine in that drive to move up the social scale. Ambition is a highly motivating force and those within the BRICS have it. They are searching for advancing their global innovation advantage and know what it means to them personally and collectively.

Technology Convergence – What’s your plan?

Lastly in our lightening round-up of emerging innovation power spots, one that we all really need to take seriously, South Korea. This came from Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future under Technology Convergence – What’s your Plan?

I have just returned from South Korea where I was delivering a keynote speech to a cross-industry forum on how to prepare for and benefit from the opportunities arising from industry convergence. South Korea has made a major strategic commitment starting with government and running through the economy to be a leader in exploiting the potential opportunities arising from the convergence of industries made possible by advances in a range of disciplines.

These include information and communications technology, biological and genetic sciences, energy and environmental sciences, cognitive science, materials science and nanotechnology.  From environmental monitoring, smart cars, and intelligent grids through to adaptive bio-engineered materials and clothing-embedded wearable sensor device that monitor our health on a continuous basis – the potential is vast.

What struck me about the situation in Korea was how the opportunity is being viewed as a central component of the long-term future of Korea’s economy and how this is manifested in practice.

Rohit concludes, he is not aware of any country where such a systematic and rigorous approach is being taken to driving industry convergence. I wonder why it is that so few countries are willing to consider – or capable of taking – such a strategic approach.”

To sum up our need for Innovation Job Chasing

It is urgent and vital for each countries race for global advantage and future prosperity we become organized. Can we really overcome the barriers to innovation we have, as each of our developed countries are so mired in old style legacies? We certainly need innovation solutions to solve growing societal challenges? Ones that seek collaboration across all sectors of society, where long-term investments are made and all the relevant parties are actively working on solutions.

At present far too many are playing the waiting game and that has to change. It does seem many involved in economic creation are also simply “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” and waiting for others to lead.

We do need to be careful here in the West that we are not further overtaken by events by ignoring that the dynamics and potential for innovation to provide sustaining real solutions by being just stuck in current problem and the dogma of old economics.

We are in a new race, the global innovation race and we need to change the way we measure and judge wealth and value creation. We need to ‘up’ the innovation game.

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  1. The Good Force be with you!

    Thank you for a winning article, Paul! Keep it up!

    Live forever & prosper!

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