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Innovation Nation

In tough times we need ideas more than ever before. New ideas are the rocket fuel that can propel growth, ignite economic opportunities and improve our quality of life.

INSEADs Global Innovation Index 2009-2010, currently ranks Ireland as the 19th most innovative country in the world. Ireland Inc is basing its recovery on forging a new smart economy built around innovation. Crowd-sourced competitions like Your Country Your Call have recently been launched to encourage citizens to generate new ideas and proposals that could transform Ireland by creating new jobs, new opportunities and a new way of thinking.

Innovation comes naturally

The IDA (Industrial Development Authority have also invested €2m launching a global campaign with the positioning Ireland – Innovation comes naturally’. It is designed to attract greater direct foreign investment and stimulate economic growth. To highlight this focus, the I word has even found its way into our political lexicon. Minister Batt O’Keeffe is now fondly known as the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Innovation.

So what can we do locally to become more of an Innovation Nation?

So what is innovation?

Innovation is open to everyone and simply means the introduction of new things or methods in a simple way that creates value. Innovation is about capturing ideas that belong in the future and bringing them back to the present.

When it comes to innovation it’s not so much about working hard but working smart. Kodak is a classic example of a company working so hard that it didn’t have the energy to clearly see the future – as it failed to anticipate the arrival of digital photography.

Sometimes innovation is incremental. Sometimes it is radical or disruptive and can change the very nature of a market. As an example in the eye care industry, glass spectacles were substituted by plastic lenses (incremental innovation) glasses were substituted by contact lenses (radical innovation) and now laser eye surgery in some cases is eliminating eye-ware altogether (disruptive innovation)

Innovation thinking starts with a mindset. It can be applied to business models, products, services, processes, organizations and even countries. That means you don’t have to be at the forefront of cutting edge technology, you simply have to come up with something different or a different way of doing things that creates value or advantage.

The innovation challenge

In almost every workshop we’ve done – the number 1 thing that businesses want to become is more innovative. However, one of the real challenges with the word innovation is that it’s easy to talk about but hard to execute. Some of the most brilliant innovations, from 3Ms Post-it Notes to Nike’s ‘waffle iron’ inspired running shoes, were built on flashes of insight and not standard management tools or metrics.

Innovation management has become a bit of an oxymoron. You cannot manage innovation any more than you can force a person to have a religious belief. Rather the challenge is one of managing for innovation. If you can create an environment that rewards risk taking and encourages experimentation, the odds of generating innovative outputs will increase dramatically.

So why not start thinking about new ideas that can change the status quo, change peoples lives and maybe even change the world. In next weeks article we will take a practical look at the key things that SMEs can do to become more innovative.

Jonathan Amm is the Co-Founder and Marketing Director at ThinkTank – a catalytic consultancy specialising in strategic marketing, branding and innovation based in Cork.