Innovation & Knowledge Management

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
(I'm live blogging at KMWORLD 2008.) John Kao, serial innovator, author of Innovation Nation, acknowledged by many as a leading authority on the future of business, explores the intersection of innovation and transformation to help define the landscape of enterprise (and knowledge workers) in the years ahead.
Toiling in the vineyards of innovation, John works with teams, in govt & private sector to help them improve or increase their innovation.

Three questions about innovation:

#1. What is innovation?
Began focusing on the study of creativity at the individual level, which grew to looking at innovation in teams, which lead to the exploration to innovation at the enterprise. Now, focused on innovation at the large-scale (e.g. a nation): How does a nation innovate?

Standard definition: Innovation is creativity applied to a purpose to realize value.

At the societal level, we need different questions and definitions. The key is to understand that innovation is the answer to a question.

Kao's definition: "Innovation s a set of capabilities that allows the realization of a desired future."

Innovation is now about creating new stuff. It's about driving transformation leading to a desired future.

Innovation tends to blossom in environments that lower barriers to information sharing.

Innovation doesn't happen in a silo - it happens when people communicate and exchange ideas. (Innovation is not about increasing investment in science; it's about applied problem solving.)

Discussion of the value chain of innovation...
Many countries are ramping up to play in the global innovation space. (e.g. India wants to become the leader in worldwide innovation.)

Innovation is nonlinear; a 5K person country can innovate at the same level of countries the size of the U.S. Scale is not necessarily an enabler.

#2. Why should we care about innovation?
There are now many countries in the innovation game. (After WWII, it was pretty much the U.S. that was the source of leading innovation.) In 1946 America produced roughly 50% of world's output. Now many countries, even ones we might not think of as innovators (like Vietnam) are competing on innovation and planning to become world leaders in the innovation space. Many governments, e.g. Sweden, China, there are government departments of innovation - you can actually call a person responsible for national innovation. Try doing that in the U.S. Who you gonna call? We don't have such a person or organization. We need one.

The American dream now exists in may places around the world. Many countries are experiencing the same fertile innovation opportunities that the U.S. once experienced.

1957 - October Sky - Panic. Sputnick. Time to innovate. American children suddenly had to study science and math - we needed to innovate to save America from perceived danger. The result: a national innovation agenda.

2008 - what's our pulse as an innovation nation? (it isn't strong, certainly not compared to what

Who's your talent?
Make it (educate it at home) or acquire talent (attract it)
America K-12 education is distressed. We spend more per capita ($80K per kid) and we are 23th or 24th in math and science.
Nationwide 1/3 of high school kids do not complete high school.
What are these (now marginally employable) kids going to do?
It's getting harder to get back into the game for people with marginally employable skills.
We graduate 50% fewer PhDs than we did after 1957.

It's amazing that in a country like the U.S. where kids can't wait to get their iPods and MySpace pages have no interest in the underlying technology.

Where are your resources?
Countries, like Singapore, are recruiting our smartest PhD folks away from the U.S. with offers of reduced red tape, no more grant application, salary multipliers, staffing, labs, etc.. All you have to do is attract a handful of the smartest people in each area of study and you can own the global innovation space. Countries around the world are doing this - they are creating innovation universities and attracting the best and brightest... and they are innovating.

What's your infrastructure?
Our public infrastructure is getting a grade of "D" Many countries, like China, Singapore, and Finland, have plenty of cash flow and they are investing in the future, while we are focused on politics and entitlements.

#3. How do we innovate?
In America, our future opportunity lies as the system innovator of innovation. We can continue to be originators of innovation, but our work will change.

Setup a shop, hire 300 people overseas and start innovating. (Gave fascinating example of people doing this.)
The opportunity here is to be the "system integrator" for innovation.

More examples (listen to recording) of people innovating in the U.S. by collaborating with others.

Discussion about innovation in various countries.


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