Is the Era of Innovation Over?

Is the Era of Innovation Over?Is the era of innovation over? Or is the war for innovation just beginning?

I came across an article in one of Canada’s main newspapers — The Globe and Mail — by Barrie McKenna titled ominously, Has Innovation Hit a Brick Wall?

The article speaks to how the Canadian government sinks billions of dollars into research and development every year, yet the country remains an innovation laggard compared with most of its trading partners. The author refers to this as Canada’s “innovation deficit.” The article then goes on to examine some research from University of British Columbia economics professor James Brander that examines whether Canada’s problem is part of a much broader global phenomenon.

The conclusions that Dr. Brander comes to are less than comforting (if you agree with his view of innovation); his research found the pace of innovation to be slowing dramatically in four key areas: agriculture, energy, transportation, and health care.

As someone who works with companies to help foster innovation and whom frequently writes and speaks on the topic, I have a problem with Dr. Brander’s conclusions about Canada and the world in the same way that I have issues with the way that the U.S. Congress and President Obama approach innovation in the United States. In fact the American government’s approach to innovation prompted me to write the controversial ‘An Open Letter on Innovation to President Obama.’

Congress, President Obama, and Dr. Brander all focus too much on science and investments in research and technology as the keys to innovation. This, I believe, is the wrong approach. As I wrote last week in ‘What is Your Innovation Equation?‘, the innovation that we all seek is not the result merely of technology, or even the combination of ideas and execution, but results from integrated efforts that do an excellent job at creating value, reducing friction, and translating value for customers.

For sure, every technology goes through a fairly predictable ‘S curve’ in which the majority of the potential is extracted after the early hiccups of the technology are overcome, but before the technology is replaced by a new technology that starts a new ‘S curve.’ And, while it may seem at any point in time that we are nearing the top of the cumulative ‘S curve,’ industrious individuals are always pushing the cumulative ‘S curve’ ever higher with new technologies and market approaches.

I would also say that even the agriculture, energy, transportation and health care industries are about to undergo big advances from the revolutionary discoveries that are being made in materials science that will allow quantum leaps in weight, thickness, and other performance characteristics. Companies are trying to reinvent management at the same.

And besides, I would argue that countries are now in a war for innovation. Some countries have been caught conducting research espionage, and I would challenge you to name a country that hasn’t adopted innovation as one of their favorite buzzwords. But the days of monolithic, isolated, single country research efforts are numbered. I believe the future of government-sponsored research will be distributed and interconnected. Smart countries and companies will begin building global sensing networks (a topic I’ll introduce next week) to push their innovation efforts to be faster, more accurate, and more dynamic. Along these lines, I believe countries looking to take an innovation leadership position will begin building innovation alliances with other countries in the same way we have built military alliances for centuries. More and more companies are doing this, why not countries?

What do you think? Is the era of innovation over? Or has a war for innovation just begun?

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies use Human-Centered Change™ to beat the 70% change failure rate. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.




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No Comments

  1. Michael R. Thomas on February 14, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Yes the era of innovation seems over and I know why the individules controling the money wont dial the number to get the master inventor involved with there R+d project there willing to spend billions on no good ideas or looking for a mechanical method of finding an idea. There unwilling to spend a nickle for the idea and are only willing to try to steal it from inventors.

  2. Tiago Brandao on February 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Definitively yes. We live the times of what I call “Innovation moments”. There’s no time span as long as “Era”, “Decade” or even “Cycle” to spend in Innovative strategies (being it Countries, Corporations or Consultants).
    What those entities will need to make sure, in order to achieve sustainable growth and/or economic viability, is a quicker and faster implementation rate of (good enough) business ideas. Rapid innovative products’ commercialization, differentiated services’ providing or fast disruptive practices’ implementation will be the only way overcome the new reality: Absolute globalization + fast commoditization = short time Innovation advantage.
    As the value and competitive advantages’ curves tend to be shorter in amplitude and faster in frequency(loop), those who envisage Innovation based strategies as the key driver for growth, must capitalize in the following variables: speed (high) and frequency (high) and lifespan (short).
    Examples could be raised from everywhere (Markets or Regions)

  3. Rodrigo Mota on February 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I don’t think so. Yes, it is true that innovative products cycles are shorter and yes, it is true that innovation is being even more expensive do to. But those information reveals only the huge focus that innovation requires. Innovation still has a high impact on changing marketshare perspectives, and, if it is done carrefully – providing value, preserving rarity, make it difficult to copy (with intellectual property, for example)and with a good organization – can bring the favourite song of the innovator to the music hall. Apple showed this with easy-to-do computers, and now Nokia and Microsoft are trying to move. Apple now is conducing the touch technology everywhere – and there’s no doubt about their profits and shares.
    This mechanism may drive the companies and countries for the next 50 years or until the end of the Age of Technology…

  4. greg moll on February 23, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I would not let this dude help my son sell lemonade. who is he to think he is superior to BMW marketing people who have a real job

  5. admin on February 23, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Greg – Love that the blog is engaging you enough to comment. It would have been even more interesting if you had challenged me on the relevant article. Happy to discuss my views on the BMW joy campaign – on the BMW article itself – not this one. Thanks for posting! 🙂


  6. admin on February 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I agree with many of the comments here if I synthesize them together. Organizations going forward must find a way to increase their flexibility, adaptability, openness and speed to market while simultaneously maintaining their ability to achieve repeatability, and predictability.

    I like to call this managing the tensions between exploration and exploitation and between the entrepreneurial mindset and the executive mindset.

    Management can do this, but it is not easy…


  7. Bill Weiner on September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am

    It is odd that an economics professor has missed the law of supply and demand. Just like with economics, it has been my experience that innovation also has a supply side and a demand side.

    Innovation is expensive (as has been noted here) but not just the research – every area of our lives have an established structure that has built up around the prevailing technology. Modifying this structure is also costly and disruptive to the entrenched players. You don’t just fund research and watch the innovation happen – It doesn’t work that way. Large innovative changes, like Prof Brander is talking about, also need the demand for the innovative change. Rarely, if ever, do large changes come in single innovative moments: It takes layers of small to medium innovations to create large change. Without demand for these changes in the real world these smaller changes wither before the next layer is applied.

    Innovation isn’t dead – bad policy gives the illusion that it is.

    Just my opinion

  8. AlexSmirnov on September 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Braden, my opinion – this era only begins. Today whole countries take their course on innovative development. For example, I’m from Russia, our government organize events suchlike this , invest money in hi-tech start-ups, and so on.
    I think it will end up not in ‘war’, but in international cooperation for innovations.

  9. Claudia Saviera Winzen, Trainer and Facilitator on September 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Hello Braden,

    I agree to Dr. Brander that innovation is slowing dramatically in the four key areas. This is absolutely true. Why that?

    I refer to Otto Scharmer’s fruitful thoughts ( about the revolution in society.
    The main mistake is using mechanism of free markets and competition on these social key area and seeing every sector as separate from the other. That’s why the whole situation is stuck. That is why innovation is slowing down. They do not connect all people involved and they do not recognize the interdependances between the sectors.

    Talking about products and service in the free markets we find more and more companies and even countries like Costa Rica who know that co-creation with a focus of “serving and acting from the whole” is the only way to face these challenges.
    I am convinced that it is now the “START OF A NEW ERA OF INNOVATION”. The war is over – smart company leaders are going to forge new alliances, they create intelligent co-operations with organizations and corporations that serve the individual and collective wellbeing. These can be drivers within countries with good relations to the new generation of conscious political leadership.
    These new governance systems are creating an innovative climate by fostering dialogue and involvement of citizens.

  10. Royce Johnson on September 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Braden, you are right on with your assessment, and the slowing is a good thing. Recall the Nabisco ad campaign two years ago with Frank Druffel (psuedo-person) delivering barn rallies with the topic of “What has progress ever gotten us but nolise, cost, and polution? We put the NO in inNOvation!” It is all about value, and as Claudia observes, value must be understood in an ecosystem of demand, not Customer by Customer anymore. And understanding of value comes from deeply digging in to your cusotmers and their cusotmers. So why is it that companies are soooo resistant to understanding their customers?

  11. Peter G. Balbus on September 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    To paraphrase the illustrious Mark Twain, “The rumors of the death of innovation are greatly exaggerated.”

    Perhaps as we take a more rational and mature attitude towards innovation, the era of innovation hype may well be coming to an end, but not the era innovation itself. Nor is innovation a new concept – human beings have been innovating for tens of thousands of years. It’s one of the salient characteristics that defines our species.

    As a certified master business innovator and strategic innovation consultant, I can confirm first-hand that innovation is not dead. But it has been over-hyped, over-characterized and over-simplified. Not every new idea is innovation. Not every incremental product improvement is innovative. When we dumb-down the definition of innovation to include anything new, creative or clever, then the term loses any significance.

    We’re also starting to see a gradual realization that innovation is an outcome, not a process or an event. We don’t “do” innovation – we achieve it through rigorous management. And more often than not, more than a little luck.

    Innovation does involve great economic, value creation and behavioral consequence. It represents the successful outcome of one or more combined novel technologies, methods, processes, materials, business models or designs achieving a disruptive influence on the status quo, and typically renders the existing state obsolete. So long as there are human beings, the era of innovation will never “die”.

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