Do not kill the seeds of innovation too early because of these three stereotypes we all unconsciously hold
With the U.S. government’s new initiative for President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the White House Office of American Innovation, it’s perhaps the perfect time to reflect on the nature of innovation — particularly the places it does and doesn’t come from.
For example, why is it so often borne out of unexpected people, places and things?
Innovation has been a hot topic for governments around the world in recent weeks. In Singapore, my current home, the government just announced plans to deepen cooperation with France on innovation efforts across technology, smart cities planning, and fintech.
I’ve been pondering the subject, and think it’s worthwhile considering three of the stereotypes around innovation in Asia — so that we as governments, corporates, and individuals can play a better role in creating the right types of environments for innovation and innovators to flourish.
Stereotype #1: Innovation is unrelated to inefficiency and failure
I’m sure we all agree that the goal of innovation is to introduce efficiencies into our daily lives. But just consider the paradoxical nature of innovation:
In reality, there is no “efficient” process by which to achieve it. To the contrary, the history of innovation is chockablock with inefficiency, waste and failure.
For example, many successful entrepreneurs, technologies and products went through multiple failed incarnations before they found the one that worked. This famously included Bill Gates’ first failed venture to pull data from traffic tapes, which crumbled; Steve Jobs, who was booted from Apple; and Milton Hershey, who started three candy companies before Hershey’s.
The lesson for leaders is this:
Don’t ask for efficiency in bringing innovation to life. You must accept that, historically, innovation has been rooted in inefficient and even ridiculous activities and trials.
Stereotype #2: Developed environments drive innovation
A second stereotype about innovation that abounds in Asia is the idea that it is most often born out of highly-developed environments like the United States, rather than emerging market environments like China or India — which are seen as innovation laggards.
Three examples I like to cite are:
- GE is now selling an ultra-portable electrocardiograph machine in the U.S. at an 80 per cent markdown versus similar products. The machine was originally built by GE Healthcare for doctors in India and China;
- Procter & Gamble found that a honey-based cold remedy created for Mexico also had a profitable market in Europe and the United States;
- Nestlé learned that it could sell its low-cost, low-fat dried noodles originally created for rural India and position the same product as a healthy alternative in Australia and New Zealand.
All three of these products were developed on the back of innovation in emerging market environments, but later enjoyed tremendous success in developed markets, too.
This has led to the concept of reverse innovation, a term popularized by Dartmouth professors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble and GE’s Jeffrey R.
Reverse innovation is the idea that products can be effectively created locally in developing countries, tested in local markets, and, if successful, upgraded for sale and delivery in the developed world.
It’s a powerful idea that turns the paradigm of Western-led innovation on its head.
Thus, stakeholders in the developed world should increasingly look for innovations born beyond their borders, in Asia’s emerging markets like India and China, as cheap and effective alternatives to their existing go-to solutions.
Stereotype #3: Experienced people create innovation
The third and final stereotype around innovation in Asia I was to address is the idea that it usually comes from older, wiser, and more experienced people. While they may indeed be all of the above, they’re not necessarily a reliable source for new or fresh thinking.
PhD holders with 20 years work experience may boast super IQs, but it’s seldom the academic types that creatively and ingeniously transform whole industries like Elon Musk has done with Tesla and SpaceX (in clean energy/transportation and space travel, respectively).
Beyond some of the names we’ve mentioned already, famous entrepreneurs like Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba), Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Founders of Google) and Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group) all started on their journey as innovators when they were still very young — in most cases, by the time they were 20.
Be careful not to kill the seeds of innovation too soon
We should be careful not to kill the seeds of innovation too early because of these three stereotypes we all unconsciously hold. Since the most important thing in innovation is inside people (regardless of the quality of environment), if there is anything common and critical in driving innovation it should be something to ignite passion and keep it alive until it brings fruits in the end.
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The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.
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