Saturday, September 12, 2009

The opportunities ahead

Innovation is not linear, we know that. We know that innovation happens in waves, trigger by the advent of groups of new technologies that open new and many times unexpected opportunities. Why this happens that way, honestly we don't know, but there is plenty of evidence that this is an stable pattern.
The good news is that this is happening and these are the bad news too. After decades of mostly incremental innovation, except in the IT sector, now we are witnessing how in many fields, solar, automobile, lightning, photography, books, ... things are changing and are changing radically.
The solar industry is going from crystal, dominated by Asian companies, to thin film. Automobiles are heading towards the electric car, lightning is progressively going to be led based. Photography stopped the megapixel race and is going to better IQ, especially in low light. Books, well you didn't missed the kindle, did you? anyway you can play catch up with the coming Apple tablet :-). Higher education is becoming more flexible and more on-line.
In general, in almost any sector we can observe how things are changing, but not at the pace of the past decade, they are changing dramatically. Sometimes, because of a technology that has been developing for years, reached maturity to be generally adopted. That is the case of on-line education, electronic books or the 4/3 standard in photography. Others, because external circumstances are pushing a dramatic change, such in automobile, solar, ... Finally others because of its huge promise, like in lightning or again automobile.
It is pretty clear that in moments where innovation accelerates is when winners and losers for the next decade are defined and, as many times, this happens in a recession. The aftermath of the recession normally shows different players in the field, players that were not there before.
This small reflection, leaves us with three questions:
  1. Who are going to be the new firms, the losers and the winners of this race?
  2. How can countries that invested millions of tax-payers money in R&D capture the return of their investment effectively?
  3. What should we do to be in the list of winners?
I don't have a clue about the first question, so I better try to shed some light on the other two.
Capturing value from innovation is a very different game from R&D. Very different in almost everything, from the skill set to its dynamics and the relative importance of basic ingredients.
If we want to answer 2 and 3, we have to take a look at which countries have in place this skill-set and a fertile territory for innovation. The list is long, but not so long. In the previous post we had a ranking for the most innovative countries, rankings can be right or wrong, maybe other factors should be taken into account of weighted differently, but believe me, the overall picture is not going to change that much. Look at that list, you'll find the answer.
Yes, my answer is USA first, the leading Asian nations and the leading European nations. But with a caveat. In order to develop innovation needs to be adopted, there is no innovation without adoption and there is no development of innovation without adoption. Consumers, betting on incomplete, faulty products and services, allow them to develop.
We need to take a look at the market, if we want to understand this process. And the market is USA and Asia. European nations, especially north european nations, lack size in their internal markets and the ability to be good players in external markets. They do well, but not as well if they were American or Asian companies. So, my personal bet, focuses on USA and Asia.
One more factor, who is innovation hungry? we has empty capacity to fill? who needs this leap?who has politicians that are supporting it ? The list of countries is long, but we will all probably agree that one is in the top. This one is USA.
A few words for the losers. Pinpointing the losers is also pretty easy. Basically if you don't aim for it, you'll never get it. Many countries forgot to see this crisis as an opportunity or think that their companies alone can do the whole work and retreat from doing anything. Many countries focused their action only on social policy forgetting everything else (big error --- companies and not governments create jobs!!!). Countries that don't have and are not promoting innovative companies either their own or trying to attract them. Yes, these are the losers.
What is pretty clear, is that a decade from now, the economic world will be a different one.

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Anonymous Franciso Lupiañez-Villanueva said...

Nice post. I wonder what is the role of globalization in this process?

1:58 PM  
Blogger esteve almirall said...

Globalization changed the speed and the reach of the process, but also has an important consequence, in many sectors you have less local optima where to hide ... so ... bigger winners and more losers ...because of that, policy is more important than ever ...

I guess :-)

2:01 PM  

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