Or is the war for innovation just beginning?
I came across an article in one of Canada’s main newspapers -- The Globe and Mail -- by Barrie McKenna titled ominously, ‘Has Innovation Hit a Brick Wall?’
The article speaks to how the Canadian government sinks billions of dollars into research and development every year, yet the country remains an innovation laggard compared with most of its trading partners. The author refers to this as Canada’s “innovation deficit.” The article then goes on to examine some research from University of British Columbia economics professor James Brander that examines whether Canada’s problem is part of a much broader global phenomenon.
The conclusions that Dr. Brander comes to are less than comforting (if you agree with his view of innovation); his research found the pace of innovation to be slowing dramatically in four key areas: agriculture, energy, transportation, and health care.
As someone who works with companies to help foster innovation and whom frequently writes and speaks on the topic, I have a problem with Dr. Brander’s conclusions about Canada and the world in the same way that I have issues with the way that the U.S. Congress and President Obama approach innovation in the United States. In fact the American government’s approach to innovation prompted me to write the controversial ‘An Open Letter on Innovation to President Obama.'
Congress, President Obama, and Dr. Brander all focus too much on science and investments in research and technology as the keys to innovation. This, I believe, is the wrong approach. As I wrote last week in Innovation Translation, the innovation that we all seek is not the result merely of technology, or even the combination of ideas and execution, but results from integrated efforts that do an excellent job at creating value, reducing friction, and translating value for customers.
For sure, every technology goes through a fairly predictable ‘S curve’ in which the majority of the potential is extracted after the early hiccups of the technology are overcome, but before the technology is replaced by a new technology that starts a new ‘S curve.' And, while it may seem at any point in time that we are nearing the top of the cumulative ‘S curve,' industrious individuals are always pushing the cumulative ‘S curve’ ever higher with new technologies and market approaches.
I would also say that even the agriculture, energy, transportation and health care industries are about to undergo big advances from the revolutionary discoveries that are being made in materials science that will allow quantum leaps in weight, thickness, and other performance characteristics. Companies are trying to reinvent management at the same.
And besides, I would argue that countries are now in a war for innovation. Some countries have been caught conducting research espionage, and I would challenge you to name a country that hasn’t adopted innovation as one of their favorite buzzwords. But the days of monolithic, isolated, single country research efforts are numbered. I believe the future of government-sponsored research will be distributed and interconnected. Smart countries and companies will begin building global sensing networks (a topic I’ll introduce next week) to push their innovation efforts to be faster, more accurate, and more dynamic. Along these lines, I believe countries looking to take an innovation leadership position will begin building innovation alliances with other countries in the same way we have built military alliances for centuries. More and more companies are doing this, why not countries?
What do you think? Is the era of innovation over? Or has a war for innovation just begun?
Braden Kelley is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy, and @innovate on Twitter.