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Inventing Innovation

April 24th 2015

Given the focus on invention, is there a recipe for how to capture and nurture true innovation? – novel ideas don’t come from a production line.

Various studies have shown that innovative companies tend to do three things. Firstly they use internal and external sources of knowledge and have a dedicated budget for venturing and testing concepts.  Secondly, they have a focus on releasing products that customers need rather than pushing new technologies simply because they are novel.  Thirdly – and often the hardest element to get right - they embrace and manage failure, leading to strong performance.

It’s possible to see this in well known companies.  Apple under the late Steve Jobs is perhaps the best-known example of company sponsored laboratories.  Google’s policy of encouraging employees to spend 20pc of their time working on their own ideas is another example. Post-It note  manufacturing company 3M allows its employees to spend up to 15pc of their time working on their own projects.

The Boston Consulting Group has also published its list of the top 50 innovative companies.  8 of the top 10 are technology businesses (Google, Apple, Samsung etc) but 2 are auto manufacturers (Tesla Motors and Toyota).  Coca Cola comes in at 16, Nike at 24, SoftBank at 30.

The list appears to be a little US centric – Xiaomi and Huawei only make the bottom quartile.  However, there may be evidence that culture and background do play a role here.  Latest WIPO figures show that China files 20% more patents than the US but crucially, they tend to be utility rather than fundamental applications.

In a recent study in Environment and Planning by Swedish regional economist David Emanuel Andersson, an Asia and China expert, it was found that U.S. and European cities have little to fear from the rise of China’s scientific centres.   As Andersson succinctly puts it: “When scientists around the world look for path-breaking ideas they still prefer Cambridge—whether in England or Massachusetts—over Beijing or Tokyo.”  So real innovation takes more than money and people.

After all, there is no recipe to create creativity.

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