Global Innovation Requires New Thinking
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Global Innovation Requires New Thinking

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR  6/28/2012
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ATLANTA—Innovation is not a new concept, but it’s not defined the same way it used to be, said Howard Wallack, M.A., MSc, GPHR, acting vice president of global business development for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) during a concurrent session held June 26, 2012, during the SHRM Annual Conference.

Innovation allows organizations to “gain core competencies and achieve unique competitive advantage,” Wallack said. “It is a unique driver of economic growth and it is coming into its own as an element of job creation.”

Though innovation is often associated with research and development and measured by scientific outputs such as patents, Wallack said it can result in creative outputs as well as process improvements.

“Innovation today occurs around the globe and transcends the confines of sector, industry and country,” he noted, yet because most research and development functions are based in their company’s country of origin, most innovation is not global.

Wallack referenced The Global Innovation Index 2011, a report published by INSEAD, one of the world’s largest graduate business schools, which ranked the United States in seventh place, behind Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland and Denmark. He noted that, other than Hong Kong, the top 10 countries for innovation “are all older, sophisticated, industrialized countries.”

Yet, developing economies are moving up in the rankings, such as Qatar (#26), China (#29), Malaysia (#31) and the United Arab Emirates (#34), followed by other notable countries, such as Brazil (#47), Saudi Arabia (#54) and India (#62). “This is where some of our competition is coming from,” Wallack said.

“Innovation is critical to driving growth in both developed and emerging economies, especially during a time when the global economy is still in a state of recovery,” Soumitra Dutta stated in a release issued June 30, 2011. Dutta is Roland Berger Professor of business and technology at INSEAD and editor of the report.

Wallack referenced a study published by Development Dimensions International, Inc. (DDI) in 2011, titled Time for a Leadership Revolution in which companies and CEOs were asked to rate the level of leadership competence their organizations had in the previous three years compared to what they would need over the next three years. Of the competencies listed—executing strategy, coaching others, fostering creativity and innovation, identifying and developing talent and managing change—the one with the biggest gap between what they had and what they needed is fostering creativity and innovation.

“CEOs are expecting us to do something and to lead our companies in a certain way, but we don’t seem to have the skills to do it,” Wallack said.

“Moving the organization toward more collaborative innovation is not something CEOs are delegating to HR. They intend to involve the entire C-suite and personally lead this shift,” Wallack said, quoting Leading Through Connections, the 2012 IBM CEO study.

“Global innovators come from all over the world. A lot of organizations have moved innovation centers to where their markets are,” he said. For example, Nokia has 55 research and development organizations located in 14 countries and AstraZeneca has invested $100 million in an innovation center in China. “This shows that innovation is moving both to be near markets as well as to be where the manpower and some of the thought power is located.”

The authors of the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011) encourage people to engage in “question-storming” by asking a series of questions such as:

What if?

What caused?


Why not?

For example: “What if we had unlimited time, unlimited resources and unlimited people?”

“People who ask more questions in more different ways with higher frequency, are in fact, higher performers,” Wallack said, referencing the book. “Question-storming is not about jumping to the answers but creating an environment where anything is ‘ask-able.’ ”

And if anything is ask-able, anything is doable, he said.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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