When the topic is innovation, there’s always lots of talk about whether the U.S. is falling behind in comparison to other nations. But instead of taking this competitive viewpoint, a more useful perspective might be to look at other nations—not warily, as if they’re “gaining on us”—but thoughtfully and observantly, to see what we can learn from them.
While innovation has long been thought to be the province of wealthy, first-world countries, today some of the most innovative practices in science, technology and business are coming from emerging nations.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review blog recently, Tarun Khanna took a look at this phenomenon. “Game-changing innovations from emerging markets… could point the way for currently stagnant Western firms,” Khanna writes.
Khanna shares some innovative ideas such as Megastudy, a business model in South Korea that videotapes good teachers so that people can subscribe to their lectures online. Teachers get a share of the revenues, and the best ones end up earning huge sums.
Bangalore, India, might not be the place you think of when it comes to cutting-edge heart surgery, but Khanna tells us that groundbreaking pediatric cardiac surgery is being done at Narayana Hospitals there.
Why are these two innovations emerging in these two places? In South Korea, education is an obsession, so the country is willing to try all kinds of experiments to improve education. The country is also highly wired, so the idea of putting education online—which has met with some resistance in the U.S.—easily won acceptance there.
Similarly, huge numbers of Indians are predisposed to heart disease due to genetics, so better cardiac surgery methods is something for which there’s an urgent need.
But how does this translate to your business here in the U.S.? If you’re looking to come up with an innovative approach to a particular industry, find out what’s being done in countries where what you’re doing is in demand, widely accepted, or is further ahead than the U.S.
For instance, if you’re developing mobile shopping apps, don’t let your vision be limited by what’s happening here. Look to nations (like South Korea) where mobile use for purchasing, data sharing and online access is much more widespread. Of course, you’ll need to temper what you find with a dose of reality about what the U.S. market will bear.
Still, opening your eyes to what’s happening in other nations—even ones you don’t think of as “innovators”—is one of the best ways to spark innovation in yourself and your team.