I attended an interesting Innovation Breakfast recently. There were three speakers on the general topic of innovation. I'll say a little about each; copies of their presentations are available at that link above. I sat next to Don Nicholl, who works in Melbourne for the German multinational, Bayer. He said that in typical German fashion :), they were building structure around innovation.
The event was sponsored by IBM, who was releasing a global survey on innovation, in which they had interviewed 765 CEOs. One of the key points to come out of the survey is the strategic importance of external collaboration. This poses a whole set of issues in a capitalistic world, where sharing is a dirty word.
Partnerships consistently ranked high in importance, as a source of innovation. Customers were also an important external source. Internally, employees ranked higher than Research and Development. Perversely, the biggest obstacle to innovation was seen to be an unsupportive corporate culture. In an ideal world, this is actually the responsibility of the CEO, but since the average tenure of CEOs these days is relatively short, there’s a limit to the extent to which it can be shaped – assuming the CEO has the ability to affect the culture.
Talks were also given by John Swainston, Managing Director of Maxwell Optical, and Grant Kearney, CEO of the Innovation Xchange Network. John Swainston was an interesting speaker, and credit must be given to him for building up to the serious innovation challenge: addressing climate change.
Innovation Xchange is a not-for-profit organisation that presents a very unusual approach to this issue. Through the placement of their representatives in innovation-seeking organisations, they identify opportunities for collaboration between their clients. Where there is mutual agreement, they go through a step-wise disclosure procedure to enable the two organisations to work together without compromising commercial confidences. As a measure of their success, Kearney says their clients include all medical research institutes in Victoria.
Surprisingly little comment was made by speakers on the day about the place of technology in innovation. Computers have been responsible for massive structural changes and efficiency improvements over the past fifty years. And, of course, the internet has created for us a whole new arena for revolutionary innovation and collaboration. I expect those terms – internet, innovation, collaboration – will be inextricably linked into the future.