This is the key to successful innovation according to business people (and it’s not what you think) [research]

“Innovation” has become like a magic wand in Europe: surely if we try hard enough, we can innovate ourselves out of the current economic slump. But underneath that optimism, there’s also a lot of doubts among business leaders worldwide about the pace of the competitive landscape, it appears from a new survey.

GE ordered a study from independent research firm StrategyOne to find out how business leaders worldwide look at innovation. All the 3000 respondents were VP level or higher, and directly involved in their company’s innovation process.

And interestingly, for most of them innovation is not so much about finding new technologies.

Innovation does not equal technology

It turns out that for most business people, innovation is not so much about developing new business models or new technology. It’s about “understanding customers and changing market developments”.

In Western Europe, this is even more pronounced: in Germany, for instance, a whopping 97 % of the respondents agree that this is “very important” for innovation. In second place comes finding and retaining innovative people. Developing new technology – which for a lot of people seems synonymous with “innovation”, only comes in third place.

Incidentally, the feeling of managers that they must by all means “attract innovative people”, is one of the things that Eric Ries talks about in his book ‘The Lean Startup’.

He says that it’s one of the fallacies of managers: thinking that they should hire more “brilliant, innovative” people, instead of changing processes to build a more innovative company. In the book, he writes about an engineer who applied the Lean Startup system to find new ways to organise his company, but didn’t quite get the reaction he expected:

He is frustrated because the managers he is pitching his ideas to do not see the system. They wrongly conclude that the key to success is finding brilliant people like him to put on their teams. They are failing to see the opportunity he is really presenting them: to achieve better results systematically by changing their beliefs about how innovation happens.

Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup, p. 276

Let me know what your ideas on this are, I would be interested to hear.

To collaborate or not?

Recent research showed data about European companies who collaborate to innovate. In that research, German companies surfaced as being least likely to cooperate with third parties to innovate. The German managers surveyed in the GE barometer were more likely to cooperate with others, this chart shows. 50 per cent of the surveyed German businesspeople are already partnering to drive innovation:


The reason why they are not collaborating with others is probably fear that their intellectual property would be stolen or misused by the other party, as this chart shows:

Innovation “vertigo”

The survey also found that most business leaders think that their governments should make the barriers for businesses lower, but on the other hand, they think that governments should do more to protect local businesses from the effects of the global innovation race.

Interestingly, a lot of business people hold the two beliefs at the same time – a situation that the researchers called “innovation vertigo”, and a sign that businesspeople are struggling with the pace of innovation in the world today.

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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