The Global Innovation Index (GII) report for 2016 has recently been released, and can be downloaded. Its release coincided with the start of my annual trip to the countries doing well in the GII and have similar or at least comparable size as New Zealand where I live and work.
The GII report highlights that innovation has to achieve three goals if it is to be a driver for growth:
- Grow the economy
- Deliver what industry and society require
- Address global challenges
in addition, one of the things that struck me on this year’s report is the wide agreement that we need new models for regional and global innovation, both of which are becoming the norm for innovation. Those still stuck in a mindset where innovation is driven primarily by individual ideas or expertise and try to grow the economy through closed system innovation primarily are now well and truly visible only in the rear mirror of those who have embraced a collaborative, open and ideally a networked approach to innovation.
The development and growth of insight of how innovation eco-systems work over time also outlines this development path to move beyond just economic growth to also focus on societal requirements and challenges:
- The triple-helix model was introduced in the 1940s – where the innovation infrastructure is primarily between government, industry and tertiary institutions. Nobody argues against the value added by successful innovation parks in close proximity to tertiary institutions where academia and industry work together to transform new innovations into successful businesses. But doing only this is no longer enough.
- The quadruple-helix model followed, where the value-add of customers and end users were recognised as of primary importance in the initial design phase of new products. This brings end users into innovation practice and various ways of how to include them on the development of new innovations are now common-place where innovation is successful.
- A penta-helix model for innovation is emerging and growing on strength on countries where innovation works well – the awareness that societies can own their own world and innovate as a group to transform their environment. One example pf this is the ‘smart city’ movement where society is invited to innovate and design and own their own future city, no longer just to act as ‘customers’ for the innovation by the experts.
It seems to me this movement towards ‘innovation by the masses’ to address the ‘challenges of the masses’ is becoming so important that it finally becomes visible that new models for innovation are required, finding an important place in the text of the GII 2016 report.
I believe that another realisation is also impacting this change – the notion that life is not only about making money. It started a number of years ago when ‘social responsibility’ of companies became important. Once again it has moved way beyond that by now so we now talk about social businesses and impact investment. Impact investment recognises that a business needs to be financially viable, but invests because of its positive impact on the environment or society, not the size of its profit.
As I said – I visit a group of countries that do well in the GII annually to learn and build innovation networks, so as I read the GII report for 2016 I was in Finland and then moved on to Sweden, both of which are in the top 5 countries for a number of years now. So as I read the text I also observed and interacted with current best practice.
What are my main impressions thus far? First of all the notion that innovation is a group effort, not an individual endeavour. Innovation is no longer only or even primarily about technology development, although technology-enabled innovations are still very dominant. Social and societal innovation is growing in importance.
There are two areas where the realisation of how innovation can change and is changing is not well articulated or understood yet, although in practice it is starting to happen in the countries where innovation works best:
- Regional development is not only dependent on building successful businesses. Job creation is not the only way to grow and develop societies. Groups of people can transform their own lives through pro-active societal innovation owned and spearheaded by themselves: The ‘trickle-down’ positive effect of ‘job creation’ by companies can be supplemented by direct societal changes driven by the masses and transforming them positively.
- Regional innovation does not have to mean only ‘an innovative eco-system where businesses can be successful’. Regional innovation is an entity on its own. Innovation does not have to primarily grow businesses in order to develop regions. Regions can transform themselves and as a result new business models and business opportunities can emerge, but regional innovation can directly improve itself and its communities without having to rely solely on job creation via successful businesses.
These last two observations are still a bit over the horizon, but exciting possibilities. I intend to explore them further, as I already developed a regional innovation governance model a few years ago that can grow these. Read more about regional innovation in the post “Regional Innovation is a Thing“.