Monday, February 18, 2013
WELSH FIRMS NEED TO COLLABORATE TO INNOVATE
In fact, Welch always believed that to innovate something is as important as inventing it.
And that is essentially the message that emerges from the latest findings from the Global Innovation Monitor, sponsored by Jack Welch’s old employer GE.
Released last month, the report is based on interviews with over 3,000 senior executives across 25 countries and shows that businesses around the world are beginning to refocus their efforts on the ways innovation can be used to develop a competitive advantage in a global economy that is slowly emerging from recession.
In this respect, it has some valuable lessons for those in Wales looking to either develop a more innovative business approach or to support innovation across the economy.
First of all, there is clear evidence that increasing collaboration between businesses is seen as a major competitive tool, with over two thirds of the respondents having already developed or improved a product with others.
Not surprisingly, the main reasons quoted for collaboration are access to new technologies and markets, although lack of confidentiality, trust and talent-poaching are perceived as barriers to greater co-operation between businesses.
For Welsh firms, this presents a particular challenge, especially given our location on the periphery of Europe, although the relative openness that is found in many innovative companies in Wales could, if developed properly with the right support for global interactions, enable growth in some key sectors such as life sciences and creative industries.
Certainly, greater collaboration with universities, as well as with other companies, could begin to make a real difference to the relative innovativeness of Welsh business.
For creative organisations looking to develop greater opportunities, the report finds that business leaders are rejecting the old orthodoxy regarding innovation, namely that the linear model of first creating a product and then continuing to develop it is no longer sufficient. Instead, senior executives are putting increased efforts on better understanding their customers and anticipating the evolutions of new market spaces as the key prerequisites for successful innovation.
Of particular importance to Welsh executives looking to enhance their businesses is the finding that developing these new approaches and models requires courage of conviction, a greater tolerance for risk and a leadership culture willing to think and act dramatically differently.
Another major consideration for the innovative organisation is the development, attraction and retention of talent, especially as the report suggests that improving the creativity and technical prowess of the workforce is seen as key to unlocking innovation potential.
Eight out of ten of those executives questioned suggested that better alignment of the education system with business needs remains a top priority, especially in training individuals with the skills and abilities to unlock the new business environment being created around the world.
For the Welsh Government, there is certainly a challenge to realign its skills policy to ensure that businesses, academia and government can work together to cultivate a more innovative workforce that has the ability to react quickly to changes in the world economy. There is also a real opportunity for at least one Welsh business school to break out of the traditional model and develop a more entrepreneurial and innovative curriculum that is more in step with the changing needs of business.
However, talent is not only developed internally and senior executives also expressed concern that governments, through misplaced immigration policies, are restricting the flow of global talent and thus having a negative impact on the ability of businesses to innovate.
Certainly, the UK Government is as guilty as others around the world of this and, if it is to ensure that the best entrepreneurs and innovators make Britain their location of choice for their future careers, then it needs to dramatically rethink some of its current approaches in this area.
Indeed, the global business community sees a clear role for government as a steward of the innovation ecosystem, and for creating a policy framework that fosters innovation, creates stability and supports robust international trade.
Again, this will be a significant challenge for the Welsh Government as it develops an innovation policy that clearly must not be focused on adopting a narrow sector approach but must instead embrace the wider concept of innovation.
However, this can only succeed if we have leaders across government, business and the university sector that are willing to champion innovation across the Welsh economy as well as within their own organisations.
And as Jack Welch famously said, the future “will not belong to ‘managers’ or those who can make the numbers dance. The world will belong to passionate, driven leaders – people who not only have enormous amounts of energy but who can energise those whom they lead”.
Those are the people we need in Wales to drive forward and innovative economy over the next few years.