Leadership | Innovation
Enemies of innovation
From Sabine Walter
In July last year, the Global Innovation Index Report 2019 was published. The report presents the innovative strength of 129 countries worldwide - evaluated on the basis of various criteria. Switzerland is the leader for the second time in a row. Germany is in 9th place, and has been since 2017. That is not alarming at first. Nevertheless, the report invites us to take a closer look at Germany's innovative strength. What are the influencing factors that favour and hinder innovation?
Innovative strength is based on many criteria
Whether a society has the power to produce innovations depends on many criteria. The number of patent applications is only one of them. Besides the Patent applications in relation to gross domestic product (GDP) are access to (risk) capital, the know-how of employees, the innovation and error culture in companies, the IT infrastructure and the education system are essential factors.
Germany has a large number of registered patents. But unfortunately, this strength does not lead to unchallenged innovative power. Why? Because there is a great need for action in the areas of access to capital, infrastructure and education.
Scene 1: A lesson in "handicrafts and design" at a Bavarian primary school.
Enemy of innovation #1: The state school system
We are in a primary school in Bavaria. The task for the pupils in a fourth grade class is to build a mirror. There are guidelines for the material, but the children are free to choose the shape and size of the mirror. Some of the children have a desire to walk around the classroom, to get ideas from friends, to share. They follow this natural urge when it comes to developing something.
But unfortunately the teacher stops this process with the indication that Copying forbidden is.
Change of scene: doctoral students at a German university
Enemy of innovation #2: University structures
Where, if not in university research labs, should new ideas be welcome. But here too: Wrong. New ideas may only be pursued if professors approve them and research funds are raised with the help of long applications.
At our universities, motivated, curious young people who want to make a contribution with their research to make our world a little better meet encrusted structureswhere only hierarchical status counts. According to the Institute for Higher Education Development About half of all doctoral students drop out and renounce the title. The reason for this usually lies in the system: Degrading communication, inadequate supervision, fixed-term contracts, dependencies on professors and their changing sensitivities.
Change of scene: An innovation workshop at a medium-sized company
Enemy of innovation #3: Management
The company is in trouble. The owners have replaced the management. The focus of the new strategy is on innovation and growth. Therefore, it is a concern to bring the culture of innovation in the company back to life.
The mood is one of waiting. They have often been promised that they will be allowed to contribute ideas. And now it is meant to be?
The employees and managers are unsettled. For years, lateral thinking was frowned upon. New ideas? Thrown in the wastepaper basket. Why change anything? We rely on the tried and tested. The result was inner resignation, service by the book and despondency. Taking responsibility? Not a chance. Shaping? Not at all.
In this company, lateral thinking must be learned anew. This costs valuable time in terms of innovation, market position and growth.
How long will Germany be able to afford these brakes on innovation?
We have picked out three examples. If you take the ranking Global Innovation Index Report 2019 and looks at the Partial criteriaUnfortunately, this picture is confirmed.
With the factor Education Germany lies on Rank 33 from a total of 129 nations, with the Investment in education we don't even make it into the top 50 (!). In the area of university research and development, Germany's top 3 universities are ranked 11th. We rank 13th in terms of employee qualifications and 40th in terms of access to finance.
Promoting innovation is a management task. Strengthening innovation is the task of politics
Promoting innovation is a leadership task. In order to strengthen Germany's innovative power, it is primarily the task of politics to create the appropriate framework conditions. Therefore:
- Thinking laterally and team exchange in schools must become compulsory
- The encrusted university structures need to be broken down.
- Access to risk capital should be facilitated
- companies should have even more incentives not only to apply for patents, but also to turn them into real innovations
- The infrastructure, especially the IT infrastructure, must be expanded nationwide and the use of digital media must be learned in schools.
The innovative power of a society will be required more than ever in the 21st century to master all challenges and to ensure the peaceful continuation of society. Converting knowledge into innovations - in whatever field - is becoming more than ever a prerequisite for individual, entrepreneurial and social development, and possibly even for survival.
We are challenged to use the power of innovation to make quantum leaps in society. We have the technology to make knowledge available at the touch of a button anywhere in the world. We are able to develop things further without sitting in the same office.
Why do we still afford structures, processes and systems that block innovation?
The time is overdue for change!
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