Building and maintaining the capacity to innovate in public and private institutions in wealthier countries is hard work. Innovation initiatives frequently fail and when organizations create a breakthrough innovation, they have a hard time sustaining their performance. The Harvard Business Review attributes this to a lack of innovation systems within these institutions.
While many organizations often engage in innovation encouraging activities like developing internal entrepreneurial ventures, setting up venture-capital arms, pursuing external alliances, encouraging innovation, crowd collaboration with customers and implementing rapid prototyping—these same organizations often lack innovation systems— a coherent set of interdependent processes and structures that dictates how the organization identifies and prioritizes the search for novel problems and solutions and a set of processes that can synthesize ideas into business concepts and production design.
Companies like Apple, Google, Tesla and others have mastered innovation. Due to the structures of innovation within these companies, many now claim a systemic culture of innovation responsible for generating endless innovations—allowing these companies to grow market-share and reap tremendous profits.
Achieving innovation in organizations in less wealthy countries is that much more difficult for many reasons beyond those discussed above. Developing countries often lack a solid technological base of trained scientists and world-class research universities; companies often serve customers with low disposable incomes and often survive on very low margins; managers are often required to innovate on a shoestring budget and companies often have to operate in environments where there is a high cost and scarcity of capital which often precludes spending on R&D. These factors force many organizations to be risk averse with no focus on innovation systems because fundamentally, the cost of ‘breaking things’ is too high. Even in situations where employees are encouraged to take risks and ‘break things’, the culture of fear of failure, punishment and criticism in which many employees matured, often reinforces risk-averse behaviours which are simply not conducive to innovation.
Creating a culture of innovation in developing countries will require a complete shift in thinking. Innovation doesn’t happen when leaders attempt to pick winners and losers; friends, family and cheerleaders. For the critical thinking, creativity, boldness and design thinking required for innovation to be achieved on a massive scale, national innovation systems must be implemented by stakeholders at the public, private, and community levels of leadership.
These systems must include how citizens love, educate and empower the nation’s children in both homes and schools. Thought must be given to how nations value those who work with children, a nation’s most valuable assets. Thought must be given to creating environments where good ideas are encouraged and implemented, whatever the source and all this must be done just to lay the foundation for innovation. Upon that foundation, work must be done across public and private sector agencies to encourage the development of Technology, Arts, Sports, Civics and other programmes which foster the development of the well-rounded child. Any nation would need a large supply of these well-rounded children in order to successfully compete globally.
From homes, to schools, to communities, to the workplace—public and private leaders in developing countries will have to play a major role in the attainment of infrastructural innovation. Systems that are inclusive and open, that prioritize having a global perspective, and that—more importantly—provide fertile ground for new ideas from energetic individuals, will empower their citizens to access the global community for resources, ideas and opportunities to solve major problems in the world. These citizens are the ones who will reap future rewards.