Harold Sirkin of Boston Consulting says rapidly developing economies, once content to copy and improve, are institutionalizing new thinking.
Like other major company activities, innovation must be managed in a disciplined way. Yet innovation often is treated like a corporate stepchild. Because innovation may be scattered among many departments, the process of screening, prioritizing, and commercializing new ideas frequently is managed in an ad hoc way.
As a result, many top executives don’t fully understand the innovation process, don’t appreciate the full range of benefits innovation can generate, and aren’t sure how to measure the payback the company receives from its investments in new ideas. Senior executives must get control of this. Those companies that manage the innovation process best—whether they’re today’s top brands from the West or challengers from rapidly developing economies (RDEs) like China, India, and Brazil—will likely be the global leaders of tomorrow.
Last year, the Boston Consulting Group teamed up with BusinessWeek in a global survey intended to answer a very important question: Which global companies are the top innovators and why? We surveyed more than 1,000 senior executives worldwide. Their top choices for the most innovative companies didn’t produce any great surprises: Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), 3M (MMM), Toyota (TM), and Microsoft (MSFT) (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/31/06, “Emerging Giants”).
Planning for Innovation
What did surprise, however, was the fact that while 72% of senior executives named innovation as one of their top three priorities, nearly half said they were disappointed with the returns on their investments in this area. Many admitted they didn’t even know how to measure these returns. (Thus was born the new book I wrote with my colleague Jim Andrew, Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation, published a few weeks ago by Harvard Business School Press.)
This uncertainty among top executives about how best to manage innovation comes at a crucial, if not critical, time. China and India have both declared innovation to be strategic national priorities. In January, 2006, China unveiled what it called its 15-year “Medium-to-Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology.”
The plan calls on China to become an “innovation-oriented society” by the year 2020, and a global leader in science and technology by mid-century. The plan calls for steep increases in research and development (R&D) expenditures over the next 15 years, from 1.23% of gross domestic product in 2004 to 2.5% of a significantly larger GDP by 2020. And it sets two far-reaching goals: First, for China to become one of the top five countries in the world in the number of new patents granted for inventions, and second, as noted by the American Institute of Physics, “For Chinese-authored scientific papers to become among the world’s most cited.”
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