Due to innovation, we fly and drive as opposed to walking. Startups have become large corporations, and mega-firms disappeared because of it. Due to innovation, silicon-bearing sand powers medical imaging, some countries are far more prosperous than others. Innovation brings ideas to life, helping us to serve our purposes better. Innovation is our core ability to extract increasing value from given resources. Besides, innovation offers a profit-making opportunity as it improves quality and lowers cost. Hence, we have been after innovation drivers to expand our wealth reservoir and profit-making opportunity.
If we did not have the light bulb innovation, the electrical property of materials could have been of no use in our life. Similarly, if we did not have x-ray imaging innovation, our ability to treat bone fracture could have remained highly erroneous. Like these two, there are numerous examples of innovation’s role in helping us get our jobs done better. Due to innovation, a growing number of fellow human beings have been enjoying increasingly better-quality life. Innovation is our means of sustaining economic value creation from depleting natural resources. Besides, it creates jobs and offers profit-making opportunities. Due to it, startups rise, and once-thriving firms disappear. Hence, startups, established firms, Governments, and development thinkers all are after innovation. They are all after making a profit, creating jobs, sustaining success, and driving prosperity.
But what are innovation drivers? There have many lists spelling out drivers. But at the core of them are empathy, creativity, science, and competition. Empathy creates the urgency of finding better means. Feeding urgency and science to our creative process generates ideas to fuel innovation. As it offers profit-making opportunities, there has been a competition to feel better, advance science, create ideas, and roll out innovations.
Four key innovation drivers: Empathy, Creativity, Science, and Competition
Although profit-making competition gets visibility, the undercurrent of innovation is empathy. The deep feeling of getting jobs done better leads to ideas and roll-out of innovations, whether as products, processes, or business models. From Edison to Steve Jobs, we detect this reoccurring innovation driver. Like us, Carl Marx also noticed similar observations in ancient philosophical writings. Human beings have the inherent urge to recreate ways to get the job done. This intrinsic trait has been at the root of our continued progression in moving away from residing with other living creatures in caves.
Due to empathy, we feel the urgency. But that does not lead to ideas and innovation. Hence, we feed urgency and science into our creative process to generate ideas. Yes, those ideas are a precursor to creation. But their scale of development and diffusion demands resource mobilization, for which profit-making incentive plays a vital role. In its absence, there could have been a scarcity of resources for systematic scientific investigation in producing knowledge. For this reason, competition to profit from innovation scales up our inherent ability of empathy, creativity, and knowledge generation. Fortunately, due to the ability to offer better means, innovation has a natural tendency of offering profit-making incentives.
Without empathy, we do not feel the urgency of finding better means. As we need ideas to address that feeling, creativity becomes indispensable. But to empower creativity, we need science. But idea production is not enough. For rolling out, we need upfront investment.
Furthermore, we also need resources to scale up idea production out of empathy, science, and creativity. Hence, competition to profit from ideas is an essential factor to unlock the power of innovation. Therefore, these four factors such as empathy, creativity, science, and competition are key innovation drivers.
Examples of innovation successes and failures:
In the 1950s, Indians learned how to make cars from a British company. They also developed the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indian Institute of Science, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). But due to weak empathy and competition, India kept making the same car, leading to obsolesce. On the other hand, Japan has attained global leadership in automobiles as a follower. The ability to produce a flow of ideas and roll out incremental innovations have made Japanese automobile companies like Toyota and Honda global leaders. Studies indicate that empathy has been at the core of Japanese for leveraging the creativity and scientific progression to roll out incremental innovations to profit from competing markets consistently.
Competition and empathy created the urgency for Japanese Nichia to make LED light bulbs a better alternative. But that was not sufficient for generating required ideas. Hence, Nichia had to mobilize resources to fund scientific investigation for science. Subsequently, scientific discovery and urgency empowered creative minds to create ideas for turning the possibility of the LED light bulb into a far better alternative.
Out of empathy, the PARC at Palo Alto research team developed technology and demonstrated the idea of the graphical user interface, but Xerox management did not envision a profit-making opportunity in it. Hence, they made it open for anybody to copy. Unlike Xerox, Apple envisioned the opportunity of reinventing the PC for making a creative destruction force and profit from it.
Although startups had a reputation for empathy in finding better alternatives out of ideas, the current mad race has been after making quick money through inflated valuation. Hence, instead of turning their idea of alternative into innovations, they are after being unicorns through loss accumulation.
Lessons from examples
The above examples indicate that key innovation drivers are empathy, creativity, science, and competition. They are linked like a chain, each forming a link. The weakness of one link makes the whole chain weak. Hence, the focus should be on strengthening all of them, as opposed to just targeting one or a few.
Weakening innovation drivers:
Due to the growing importance and acceptance, stakeholders like academics, policymakers, investors, and development planners are after strengthening innovation drivers. The academic community is after science and business knowledge. Their focus on knowing what is known has been damaging creativity and weakening empathy. Notably, online learning has been making it worse.
Policymakers and development planners are after higher education and making sure that students, at an early age, are confined within the boundaries of schools. Hence, these youngsters are failing to develop a vital innovation skill—empathy. Instead of exposing them to real life, they are taking all measures to prevent them from being exposed. Hence, society has been ending up with a degree-holding population devoid of empathy.
Venture capital (VC) funding and public policies are after creating a competition-free market for startups. VC fund managers are pumping tons of funds to subsidize primitive offerings to kill incumbent products and destroy other competing startups. Among others, Uber’s investors’ burning of more than $25 billion is a notable example.
There is no denying that digital technology core offers the opportunity of reinventing many existing products. Like in the past, invariably, reinvention idea out of digitization emerges in primitive form. Due to lack of empathy and ease of access to risk capital, degree-holding youths have been after making a quick buck. Hence, instead of focusing on feeding their creativity with empathy and science, they are after subsidies for expanding the customer base and inflating valuation.
Despite diverse claims, current approaches of economic growth and prosperity out of innovation have been weakening innovation drivers. Hence, it’s high time to pay attention to the innovation drivers and figure out ways to strengthen them.
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