How innovations succeed is increasingly drawing attention. On the one hand, due to innovations, there has been a growing gap in income and living standards between countries. On the other hand, upon investing in science, technology and engineering, many developing countries are failing to derive economic benefits. Moreover, even efforts for fostering creativity and ideas are not leading to innovation successes. But some firms, and even countries, are immensely befitting from innovations, even after taking ideas from others. Such a reality makes us curious, indeed.
What it takes for innovations succeed? Often, we think that innovation is a magical act of creative genius. It’s also true that every country or firm is not equally succeeding in innovation. Even innovation is the determinant of large variations of income and quality of living standards between countries. Hence, a few countries like Japan or Germany are far more prosperous than natural resource-rich countries. Does it mean that countries benefiting far more from innovation are the outcome of the accidental endowment of creative genii?
Does it mean that if Wright Brothers, Carl Benz or Thomas Alpha Edison were born in India, India could have been a highly prosperous country? Well, creativity matters, but that is not all. Creative outbursts of all those genii came out in primitive form, having no economic value at the initial stage. In retrospect, innovations succeed at the intersection of several major factors. Creativity is just one of them.
These seven factors are: (i) praxis & creativity, (ii) tinkering & craftsmanship, (iii) passion for perfection and Design Thinking, (iv) scienctific knowledge, (v) technology, & engineering, (vi) economics, entrepreneurship, innovation management, & business, and (vii) public policy.
Praxis and Creativity
Not only a few, in fact, but every human being is also a creative genius. By born, we have the inherent ability to generate ideas for recreating the world around us. Carl Marx noted this reoccurring observation in ancient philosophical writings. He termed it as praxis. From this perspective, every human being is a creative genius. In fact, they are! Even an illiterate person in a remote village of Bangladesh or Kenya is continuously coming up with ideas. And they are applying them to innovate solutions to meet the daily challenges.
Well, if that is the reality, why have not innovators like Carl Benz or Write Brothers grown in these countries? As a matter of fact, many of the grassroots level innovations are in extensive use in these countries. For example, India Innovation Foundation has developed a database of more than 300,000 such innovations in India alone. Why don’t these innovative ideas scale up into large businesses?
Besides, innovators in developing countries either attempt to imitate or try to come up with breakthrough ideas. None of these approaches appear to be suitable for extracting value from the market. Instead of focusing on mere creativity for generating ideas and keep experimenting with them, the focus should be on systematically generating ideas and pursuing only a selection of them. Many of the to be innovators have the temptation to think that succeeding with innovation is about to roll out completely new products. Of course, innovating breakthrough products like Wright Brothers’ plane matters. However, innovation successes rely on a systematic approach to keep redesigning existing products for sustaining them in the market and creating new entry opportunities. Bedsides, breakthrough innovations invariably emerge in primitive form—generating loss-making revenue.
Tinkering and Craftsmanship
Upon having the idea, we need the skill for implementation. Initially, tinkering and craftsmanship play a vital role in giving a physical shape to ideas. Even the Nobel Prize-winning great ideas like the invention of the Transistor got the first physical appearance with the support of tinkering and craftsmanship. Similarly, the tinkering and craftsmanship skills of Wright brothers or Carl Benz were highly instrumental in demonstrating their respective ideas of flying machine or Automobile. In the absence of this virtue, creativity alone does not lead to taking ideas in the implementation stage. Even this is true for innovation in the software space. To give the initial shape of the ideas in digital space, innovators must have a strong writing code capacity, fine-tuning it, and experimenting with it.
Due to the weakness in tinkering and craftsmanship ability, even highly educated persons fail to turn their ideas into practical solutions. Unfortunately, in many developing counties, this virtue is quite absent. Moreover, formal education has become a barrier to the formation of this virtue at the early stage of life. In fact, many of Japan’s innovation success stories have a strong root in tinkering and the Craftmanship culture. Staring from Tanaka Hisashige to Tokuji Hayakawa, many Japanese innovators started their journey with tinkering and craftsmanship skills, which led to the formation of Toshiba, Sharp, and many other innovation success stories. However, creativity, tinkering and craftsman alone cannot scale up technology ideas as innovation success stories.
Passion for perfection and Design Thinking in getting jobs done better for fueling innovations to succeed
Invariably, every great idea emerges in primitive form. For example, the Wright Brothers’ airplane was extremely primitive. In its initial emergence, there was not even a single seat for the passenger. The plane could fly only a small distance. And it was highly unreliable. Similarly, the Transistor emerged in primitive shapes, giving birth to the information technology industry. Besides, the electronic image sensor, unfolding digital imaging revolution, also emerged in primitive form. At their birth, none of them was of any practical use. Although tinkering and craftsmanship demonstrated those ideas, that was not sufficient to create any significant economic value. Hence, there has been an urgency to keep improving them. It requires a passion for perfection in getting jobs done better at decreasing costs. This factor is vital for continued improvement, even lasting for decades—even a century.
As a matter of fact, this trait appears to be at the core for the Japanese to create an economic miracle even after taking others’ initial ideas. For example, Sony licensed ideas of Transistor and electronic image sensors from American Bell Labs. The passion for perfection has led to the creation of huge of innovation success stories out of those borrowed ideas. Apart from having passion, we need to turn intuitive understanding into science to open a scalable path for perfection. The flow of scientific knowledge is vital for supporting the flow of ideas for empowering passion for perfection to keep progressing. In fact, the transition from tinkering and craftsmanship to scientific discovery leading to technology invention and continued advancement is a key barrier to overcome to turn our inherent creativity into innovation successes.
Scientific Knowledge acquisition and research for creating innovation successes
Despite the critical role, however, creativity, craftsmanship, and passion for perfection are not enough to keep improving initial ideas, subsequently opening an endless frontier of growth. It requires the formation of scientific knowledge for creating a scalable path of improvement. The continued progression of underlying scientific knowledge opens the scalable growth path. For example, the continued growth of Wright Brothers’ Airplane reaching Airbus A380 or the Transistor’s growth to a tiny silicon chip containing a billion transistor is due to the formation of scientific knowledge and its conversion into ideas for making the innovation increasingly better and also cheaper. In the absence of science, no ideas keep growing out of creativity, tinkering and craftsmanship—in being better and cheaper means for serving purposes. In fact, innovations in the preindustrial age did not scale due to the lack of transfer of intuitive understanding into scientific knowledge.
Technology knowledge, R&D and high precision Engineering for innovations to succeed
The discovery of scientific knowledge supports the idea of inventing technologies and progressing them further. However, sometimes, it’s other way around. Often time, before scientific discovery takes place, creative urge turns ideas into practical means through tinkering and craftsmanship. However, scientific knowledge plays a vital role to scale them up. It turns out tinkering invention into scalable technology means or innovations—by converting intuitive understanding into scientific knowledge. Engineering makes effective and efficient usage of technologies to engineer the implementation of technology ideas.
Moreover, the focus on design thinking keeps making products easier to use and aesthetically pleasing. However, design thinking requires strength in creativity, tinkering, craftsmanship, and passion for perfection for generating and demonstrating design innovation ideas. Besides, the implementation of those ideas requires the fine-tuning of technologies and high-precision engineering. For example, many of the high-profile features of iPod and iPhone appear to be the outcome of design thinking. But their implementations needed technology acquisition, advancement, fine-tuning and fusing, and more importantly, high precision engineering.
Hence, it’s a fundamental factor in the journey of making innovations succeed. However, due to the weakness of creativity, tinkering and craftsmanship ability, and passion for perfection in getting jobs done better, often technology capability development focuses on knowing existing technology—invariably developed outside. Besides, R&D investment leads to publications of articles and filing patens without having linkages with advancing practical solutions. Hence, particularly in developing countries, the expansion of technology and engineering education, development of laboratories, and R&D investments fail to make innovations to succeed.
Economics, entrepreneurship, winning traits, innovation management, & business
Human beings are driven by economic incentives. On the one hand, consumers are after having increasingly better products at a decreasing price to serve their purposes better. On the other hand, producers are after making an increasing profit. In fact, profit-making is the core purpose of producing and distributing goods and services. But how to address this conflicting situation? Besides, this challenge must be met for creating increasing economic value from depleting resources to meet our growing consumption. Hence, the market economy has adopted economic principles for encouraging profit-making competition out of technology ideas for offering us increasingly better-quality products at decreasing cost. In fact, this is the market economy’s core strength for offering us increasing prosperity and quality of living standards. Furthermore, there should be a strong winning trait among entrepreneurs for succeeding with innovation.
In a globally connected competitive market economy, profiting from innovation successes require smart strategy and management of technology and ideas. There has been an extremely high-level challenge in sustaining innovation successes. Moreover, creating an entry requires meticulous interpretation of the past, monitoring the present, and predicting the unfolding future. Besides, we need technology, idea, and innovation management competence for leveraging a narrow window of entry, often through redesign of the existing products—as opposed to pursuing completely new ones.
Business culture and development thinking in developing countries must change
Countries that have organized their economy to extract economic value from labor and natural resources need to make major changes. Invariably, these countries focus on physical infrastructure and preferential treatment for technology import. The policy of importing technology appears to be in contradiction to creating the local market for innovations to succeed. Moreover, a public incentive culture to offset inefficiency is also harmful.
Besides, these countries—invariably—follow the import substitution strategy for developing industrial economy—through diverse incentive mechanisms. The core focus of such a strategy has been to create the market for labor and natural resources by replicating imported technology ideas from outside. This strategy neither develops a sustainable industrial capability nor does it create the demand and supply of the local technology idea market. As opposed to winning strategy out of innovations, businesses in these countries are invariably after public incentives and protection to make a profit. Such business culture must change.
Conducive Public Policies for innovations to succeed
Producing a profitable return from innovation successes is an extremely difficult task. Until and unless all other means of making a profit are closed, firms would not focus on profiting from technology ideas. Hence, overall economic policy should gradually remove all forms of subsidies and economic incentives for covering up non-competitiveness. The next one begins with the culture and education for nurturing creativity, passion for perfection, and developing tinkering and craftsmanship spirits. Furthermore, investment should be made in R & D to adapt global scientific knowledge and advance them further to improve technology and engineering capability of implementing ideas. On top of it, there should be selected areas to fucus on for creating track record of successes.
Irrespective of the greatness of the ideas, invariably, path-breaking ideas emerge in primitive form. The continued progression of such ideas requires a flow of ideas. Moreover, innovators also find extreme difficulty in finding customers of primitive emergence. Hence, Public policy should support the knowledge and idea flow, and also the creation of the market. For example, the US government’s policy of supporting academic research in semiconductors and computers played a vital role for primitive transistors to keep growing for being cheaper and better. On the other hand, US defense and space policies for being lead customers of this technology, at an early stage, was vital for its progression.
Policy contradiction—must be addressed
At the core of innovations to succeed is the profit-making competition out of technology ideas. It’s the race for offering better products at a lower cost. That is is the key to innovation success. Hence, public policy must make sure fair competition. Moreover, the policy must keep providing clear signals that public incentives for making profit out of inefficiency or labor & natural resources will keep diminishing. It is worth mentioning that policies for protection in developing industrial economies out of labor and natural resources are highly in contradiction to policies we need for innovations to succeed—creating economic value from technology ideas.
Integration of seven factors is the key for innovations to succeed
In fact, there should be a strong integration among these seven factors for innovations to succeed. In its absence, developing countries are suffering from the deprivation of extracting economic value from the investment for science and engineering education. On the other hand, the emphasis on the expansion of formal education is weakening the base of tinkering and craftsmanship. Technology import driven culture is also blunting creativity as there is a belief that importing ideas is a way to have better solutions.
As a matter of fact, in the preindustrial stage, every country, more or less, had the same level of innovation success stories. During that era, innovations were primarily around tinkering and craftsmanship-based approach for transferring intuitive ideas into practical solutions. Knowledge undelaying those ideas was in the art form. Hence, innovations were not scalable. Thus, the growth was slow, and inequality between communities and countries was far less than today’s situation.
The success of transferring art form of knowledge into science led to the scaling up of technology advancement. Subsequently, it made innovations scalable, leading to the first industrial revolution. In the subsequent industrial revolutions, a few countries have been scaling up this success by strengthening each of the seven factors and establishing strong linkages among them. On the other hand, most countries are increasingly falling behind. They are busy developing infrastructure for supplying labor and natural resources to replicate innovations.