The Road to Economic Recovery

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is always an opportunity for big-picture thinking (see my post about the 2008 Forum here).  And this one comes right in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  In a deep crisis, innovation can be perceived as optional; “we have to focus on survival”. So I was delighted to read when Dr. Paul Stoffels, company group chairman of pharmaceutical research and development at Johnson & Johnson, advocated innovation as the way out of the crisis in the Boston Globe this week.  And not just any innovation, but open innovation–the kind of networked co-creation that I advocate in my book Group Genius.

He writes:

“Our scientists are taking a networked approach across internal organizational disciplines and geographies, including Asia and other emerging markets, and increasingly with external public and private partners to generate ideas and intellectual property. By working with experts at other companies, universities, and research institutes, we tap a wider range of expertise, capabilities, and resources. Together we share in both the benefits and costs of innovation that will yield more useful technologies and solutions that will contribute to new advances in healthcare.”

Innovation is necessary for survival.  And Johnson & Johnson gets it.

4 thoughts on “The Road to Economic Recovery

  1. Dr. Sawyer,

    Collaboration drives better innovation and innovation is necessary for survival. So why isn’t innovation through the use of group genius embraced more emphatically by business?

    Vijay Govindarajan wrote an interesting article called “Ideas Are Not Enough” a year ago. In it I think he may have nailed the answered.

    To summarize the article: Talking about collaboration and innovation is a whole heck of a lot more fun than actually implementing it.

    He starts his article with “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Thomas Edison said it nearly a century ago. Few listened.”

    I think too few still listen.

    To paraphrase a section in the article: “The front end (of the innovation process) is about creativity, discovery, and breathtaking new ideas. The front end sizzles with sex appeal. The back end labors and sweats. Yet, the back-end of the innovation process is about converting ideas to life. It is about organization building, technical development, and commercialization.”

    Bringing life to ideas. How cool is that?

    I believe that every organization is brimming with vast reserves of untapped tacit knowledge held by its employees. Yet – can’t you also envision the “lone genius” up on the mountain top – I know way too many of these – in the form of a business owner, ceo etc pondering how to survive?

    The answer could be waiting to be discovered in a cubicle just feet and moments away.

    1. “Ideas are not enough”–I completely agree. I think there’s a consensus about this. Kenan Sahin wrote in an article in Technology Review a couple of years back, of an “innovation backlog”–the point being, we have plenty of good ideas, the challenge is creating value–by implementing those ideas.

      My own research on the innovation process shows that often the best ideas come while you’re executing previous ideas. It’s the nature of improvisation: you start down one path, and an unexpected idea comes to you that changes how you think about what you’re doing. The best way to have ideas is not to meditate or to brainstorm–it’s to start down the path.

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