Lib­er­ate to in­no­vate

Finweek English Edition - - Insight -

IN­NO­VA­TION IS a crit­i­cal com­pet­i­tive fac­tor in the con­tem­po­rary mar­ket­place and the in­flu­ence and im­pact of in­no­va­tion in the global econ­omy is dis­tinc­tive. Man­agers know this, cus­tomers know this, econ­o­mists and em­ploy­ees know it and so do you. How­ever, know­ing that in­no­va­tion is key does not mean that it hap­pens. In ad­di­tion, know­ing how im­por­tant it is does not mean it is easy to ac­com­plish. The point is that very few com­pa­nies can af­ford to feel se­cure be­hind their es­tab­lished brands, long­stand­ing cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships or pro­pri­etary technology. The com­pet­i­tive pres­sure on all of us is global and im­me­di­ate.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est coun­try in­no­va­tion rank­ing, the con­ducted by INSEAD, South Africa oc­cu­pies the 51st po­si­tion out of the 132 coun­tries mea­sured. This puts us be­tween Barbados in 50th po­si­tion and Ro­ma­nia in 52nd. The first 5 po­si­tions are taken by Ice­land, Swe­den, Hong Kong (China), Switzer­land and Den­mark re­spec­tively. In ad­di­tion, re­cently re­leased its list of the most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies in the world, with Ap­ple tak­ing podium po­si­tion, fol­lowed by Google and Mi­crosoft in sec­ond and third places. Not one South African com­pany fea­tures in the top fifty. “What makes the dif­fer­ence?” one in­evitably won­ders.

Well, it seems that these highly in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies go to much greater lengths to tap the cre­ative po­ten­tial embed­ded in their em­ploy­ees. They in­vest in cre­ativ­ity train­ing; in­stil a de­sire to be in­no­va­tive; cre­ate the right or­gan­i­sa­tional cli­mate; and in­volve all em­ploy­ees and their knowl­edge about cus­tomers, com­peti­tors, and pro­cesses. Peo­ple and ideas are at the heart of their man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy. Peo­ple are given room to grow and to try new things while learn­ing from their mis­takes. If the CEOs of these com­pa­nies were the only in­no­va­tors in their re­spec­tive com­pa­nies, they cer­tainly would not have reached the lev­els of suc­cess they en­joy to­day. They suc­ceed be­cause they build a strong sense of open­ness, trust and com­mu­nity across the com­pany and fa­cil­i­tate the in­ter­nal mo­bil­ity of tal­ent. They de­velop ver­bal and non­ver­bal cues to em­ploy­ees that their think­ing and au­ton­omy is re­spected. These cues shape the cul­ture of the com­pany and are of­ten more ef­fec­tive than mon­e­tary re­wards. Schum­peter, the well-known econ­o­mist of the 20th Cen­tury, be­lieved that in­no­va­tion is the driv­ing force not only of cap­i­tal­ism, but also of eco­nomic progress in gen­eral, and that en­trepreneurs are the agents of in­no­va­tion. One could then safely say that these highly in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies are filled with agents of in­no­va­tion – intrapreneurs.

We can surely learn from these highly in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies as we jour­ney to­wards a fu­ture in which it is ex­pected that the rate of in­no­va­tion will in­crease even faster. In­no­va­tion will be the driver for global growth in the fu­ture and is also bound to con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to­wards po­ten­tial so­lu­tions to some of the most chal­leng­ing is­sues that cur­rently face the world.

The devel­op­ment of ac­tive in­no­va­tion in­fra­struc­tures at both com­pany and coun­try level is cen­tral to achiev­ing sus­tain­able fi­nan­cial per­for­mance and GDP growth. In­no­va­tion lead­er­ship will need to be driven from the top by se­nior man­age­ment to en­sure that the level of pri­or­ity re­quired is pur­sued through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Our govern­ment will also need to show strong lead­er­ship, and en­sure that welldirected poli­cies are im­ple­mented to strengthen the sci­ence and technology foun­da­tion as well to pro­vide an in­no­va­tive in­fra­struc­ture for South Africa. Hard choices will have to be made in terms of where to fo­cus scarce re­sources to be able to com­pete in the global arena in both the short and longer term.

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