The Future Of Innovation: Adaptation And Creativity

Ms Stefania Testa

In recent surveys published by a well known consulting company, business executives worldwide were asked questions about the most important capability for growth. The most popular answer was: ability to innovate, getting 43% of the total answers, all other possibilities remaining under the threshold of 25%. Despite this result, many SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) seem to survive without innovating, at least according to the official statistics. Such a paradox derives from the fact that traditional innovation indicators are often misleading and not capable of sufficiently reflecting economic creativity and innovation when facing SMEs. In fact SMEs don’t apply for public funds, both due to lacks of information and too complex rules, they don’t patent, both due to high costs and cultural reasons, they do not have R&D (Research and Development) departments, and they don’t put innovation investments in balance sheets, apart from machinery and equipment purchasing. Despite the evidence that alternative models for innovation do exist and are commonly adopted by SMEs, the national and international debate seems mainly focused on increasing investments in R&D and raising funds for public research. Indeed, the issue of innovation is essentially a cultural and organizational problem, not only a money-related one. A strong and never ending divide seems to exist between academics and entrepreneurs. Inside its universities, Italy produces innovation and research at low costs, sometimes even competitively with developing countries, but the business environment is not able to recognize this contribution due to semantic, cognitive and cultural reasons. Researchers are forced, in order to get visibility in their disciplines, to write in a hyper specialized language and most of their contributions remain largely constrained to academic circles. The average entrepreneur is not even curious to read boring academic papers and the average researcher is not intrigued by firm management problems. In order to overcome such a cultural gap a public intervention has frequently been advocated and a variety of intermediary institutions for innovation and technology transfer have been adopted by national governments. According to official data, about 300 intermediary institutions have been set up (and never dismantled) in Italy but the debate concerning their real benefits is open.

So how to innovate innovation? As Ohmae claims, globalization is here to stay and it is performing

its task of "creative destruction" well. Day by day it pushes entrepreneurs and researchers to find new ways of adaptation and survival. Rather than dreaming of a return to the past with top-down interventions that have not always brought benefits, the role of institutions should be to support transformation which is already in progress. This can be done by creating a favorable environment for innovation through minimizing the interference of bureaucracy and defining a more flexible regime of rules and regulations. And, simultaneously, institutions should create lean task forces involving all innovation stakeholders, including the young and skilled. This would enable players to break free from the current framework inherited from the usual experts who, from conference to conference, just complain about scarcity of resources.

Article © 2009 Ms Stefania Testa. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Ms Stefania Testa

Ms Stefania Testa

affiliation:   University Of Genova

position:  researcher

country:  Italy

area of interest:  innovation management

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