The concept that innovation drives prosperity isn’t new. But the definitions of both innovation and prosperity are changing -- and The GE Global Innovation Barometer, an independent survey of 1,000 business executives in 12 countries conducted for GE by StrategyOne, found that business leaders believe small businesses will play a greater role in innovation in the future.
A New Definition of Prosperity
Executives in the study consistently cited innovation as a strong driver of a prosperous economy. Ninety-five percent said innovation is the main lever for a more competitive national economy, and 88 percent said innovation is the best way to create jobs in their country.
But the definition of prosperity is evolving. More than three-fourths of those surveyed (77 percent) said the greatest innovations of this century will be those that help address human needs, such as improving the quality of health or enhancing energy security -- not those that simply create the most profit. Survey respondents said that in the next decade, innovation will be a catalyst for improving health quality (87 percent), environmental quality (85 percent), energy security (82 percent) and access to education (81 percent).
“The results clearly demonstrate that globally, our priorities are shifting from innovations that simply make money to innovations that also create good in people’s lives,” said Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer and senior vice president, GE.
“This study illustrates that the rules around innovation are changing, and that companies, like ours, will need to evolve our strategy in order to stay competitive, drive growth and contribute meaningfully to the economy,” Comstock said. “For innovation to flourish, we must embrace a new innovation paradigm that promotes collaboration between all players -- big, small, public, and private - fosters creativity, and emphasizes solutions that meet local needs.”
A New Definition of Innovation
In addition, the survey showed traditional methods of innovation are changing, which is putting more emphasis on individuals and small to midsize businesses, and creating a greater need for collaboration among different entities. Here are some of the findings:
- 75 percent of respondents believe the way companies innovate in this century will be “totally different” than the way they innovated in the past.
- 75 percent said that more than ever, individuals and SMBs will be as innovative as large companies.
- 86 percent said that 21st century innovation is about partnerships among several entities, not innovation by a single organization.
- 76 percent said innovation must be tailored to local market needs -- again highlighting the key role SMBs, with their local focus, can play.
One part of the survey I found particularly interesting was its focus on creativity. Respondents emphasized creativity as a critical factor in innovation; in fact, almost seven in 10 (69 percent) said innovation is driven more by individual creativity than by high-level scientific research. And 58 percent believed having more “out-of-the-box” thinkers is the No. 1 factor that would help companies become more innovative.
Creativity is a hot buzzword today -- maybe because it’s something that business owners find easier to control, or more accessible, than scientific research. But is it really the most important factor in innovation? If you want to commercialize ideas, I’m not so sure.
Which Countries Are Innovation Leaders?
There’s lots of hand-wringing going on right now about the lack of innovation among U.S. companies and ways to become more innovative. But in the world’s opinion, the U.S. is still leading the way when it comes to innovation. When asked to name the three countries they viewed as the most innovative, respondents named the U.S. first (67 percent), Germany second (44 percent), Japan a close third (43 percent) and China fourth (35 percent).
The survey also asked executives how likely they felt it was that innovation would improve the lives of citizens in their countries. Ironically, the top four countries were all fairly pessimistic about the degree to which innovation would improve life in their nations. Perhaps this is why these countries remain innovative. Like “A” students constantly worried about their grades, they’re not satisfied with where they are, don’t think they’re doing that good a job, and are always striving to get better.
See the full survey results, including charts and graphics, at the GE website.