The Future Of Innovation - Insights From History

Dr Patrícia MouraSa

We sometimes talk about innovation as something that we have just discovered. As a matter of fact, History has been proving for centuries to us the importance of being innovative. At the same time, History also shows that innovation has very seldom resulted from a simple click or a pace of magic, but rather is the result of a process in which three factors are vital: the ability to think ‘outside the box’, the capacity to drive out fear and the power to engage others in a challenging vision.

Portugal in the period of the Discoveries is one of the best examples of how these three ingredients together made it possible to go farer than anyone else before. Had the Portuguese navigators insisted in old recipes, waited to have all the guaranties of success or had not the nation mobilized most of its energy and resources to this quest, and the journey throughout the seas had most likely not even started! Oh, and let us not forget one other factor: the existence of a navigation school where people were educated according to the most advanced knowledge at the time. Probably no one would speak then about knowledge transfer, work across the boundaries or have business angels, but these concepts, in a way or another, were there, as there were things as continuous improvement and leadership for excellence that we now associate with the modern management theories.

What makes things more difficult nowadays is the time pressure. We, especially in the West, are no longer willing to wait ten years to see the results of our efforts, least to engage in projects that do not produce visible benefits in our lifetimes! As citizens, we are just beginning to embrace environmental causes that will have, hopefully, effects in the long run.

For the organizations, this sense of urgency often means that some vital investments are not made because they not meet the payback criterion or legitimizes the option for less qualified employees strictly trained to perform routine tasks. Productivity is at the same time a push and an obstacle to innovation. We need organizations that simultaneously are efficient and innovative and that calls often to rather different structures and management styles. How to build ambidexterity in small and medium-sized firms? That is possibly the great challenge to the Portuguese economy.

Article © 2009 Dr Patrícia MouraSa. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Dr Patrícia MouraSa

affiliation:   University Of Coimbra; Faculty Of Economics

position:  Assistant Professor

country:  Portugal

area of interest:  Total quality management; process innovation

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