The argument for a National Innovation Institute

Further to my last blog post on a need for a National Ministry of Innovation, I’d like to expand on this further as I’m presently here in Singapore and feel this is even more topical.

Always Singapore provides you with a positive impression when it comes to development. It is a country that consistently experiments and explores its options to grow its economy. Innovation is within this mix but I still think it should be more central, visible and coordinated to extract that little ‘extra juice’ often needed today.

Visiting Singapore on this trip I’ve been examining where innovation ‘fits’, and there are plenty of examples of experimentation backed up by investment seed money, but for me, innovation still lacks a certain coherency and consistency of purpose within policy. I feel with the changing nature of innovation and its increasing value creation aspect it does need to be given a greater sense of attention, so further investments can build innovation deeper into the fabric of society. A national innovation body can bring this coherency of purpose that Singapore strives for.

I have championed for a number of years this need for a clearer National Innovation Strategy to deepen and support all the different activities needed to be ‘housed’ within Singapore. It is at this national level you achieve a greater match between supply-side inputs and the demand side by understanding the roles played by all the parties. You can’t afford any form of hands-off approach today; you need a strong strategic focus on the roles and policies for the delivery of that innovative society that is needed to compete effectively in today’s world.

A national innovation policy structure can go well beyond a conventional set of prescriptions. Where? It can provide for a greater intensity in:

  • Channelling R&D into specific technology and industry challenges.
  • Clarifying what is around the world that is missing that needs to be brought into Singapore in nascent technologies etc, so as to support what has already been drawn in, thus anchoring the value of what is produced in Singapore.
  • A national policy allows for more comprehensive ‘roadmaps’ in key industries and research to be understood and the gaps narrowed.
  • The more focused funding of sector-based industry-university-government research partnerships that met this National innovation policy.
  • You achieve a more robust approach to clustering that has a broader regional need.
  • You create deeper knowledge to the methods, processes, approaches and techniques needed for innovation.
  • You add further impetus to where private sectors needs to adopt and where public sector needs to support.
  • You speed up the rate of knowledge transfer between the players with a more coordinated agenda.
  • A national policy gives fresh emphasis on the tax code to spur innovation and where to invest and can help to shape future trade policy in its championing.
  • Lastly you develop clearer ways to measure often those elusive innovation metrics that provide the justification on return on investments by the parties involved.

For me a National Innovation agenda, driven by a clearly identified body, helps in driving national and global solutions through coordinating innovation. It builds up the ongoing knowledge of innovation in its evolving process and allows for greater monitoring, peer review and the build up of good policy practices that stimulate the growth within the economy.

I’d just like to see innovation having this greater recognition of its role for society within Singapore. Having innovation as more central in policy decisions, recognised and seen would add further momentum to all the present good work invested in innovation activity. It connects and strengthens the dots that are already established. I still think it’s the way forward for providing Singapore an even more competitive edge .


A Need for a Ministry of Innovation

I am presently busy preparing for a visit to Singapore. I balance my time between Switzerland and Singapore as my business base and as they are ranked 1 & 3 in the WEF’s Global Competitive Index, it is sometimes hard to get an even deeper attention to innovation as this sort of ranking gives a certain belief, yet I often wonder why. I think countries often get blindsided in the pursuit of what they know and ignore what they seemingly can’t capture.

Let me be perfectly clear both countries I operate between, take competitiveness seriously; they both have a real need to maintain their attraction to foreign investment for their prosperity, as they have limited resources to call upon if you compare them to the USA, China, India or Germany for example, and do set about creating the right environment for this but they have their blind sides it seems to me still.

The GCI index

Firstly let me explain the GCI. The World Economic Forum defines competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. Its latest report can be viewed here

The GCI covers three main areas (Basic Requirements, Efficiency Enhancers, and Innovation and Sophistication) among a total of 12 pillars against which competitiveness is measured. The twelfth pillar is innovation. There are a number of measurable ‘hard’ data indicators (e.g. broadband internet subscribers, mortality, infrastructure etc) and a number of ‘soft’ data indicators which are partly taken from the Executive Opinion Survey within these 12 pillars. There is also a weightings of these factors depend on the stage of development of the country.

Needing a deeper attention to innovation still in both

One of the arguments of the recent WEF report is simply: “In the long run, standards of living can be expanded only with innovation”, now that is music to my ears as this is my 100% focus! The report offers this further thought “Firms in these countries must design and develop cutting-edge products and processes to maintain a competitive edge. This requires an environment that is conducive to innovative activity, supported by both the public and the private sectors”

One of the things you always need to look hard at is the factors that drive the ranking and these are sometimes not as ‘focused’ on the innovation activity as we sometimes think. Each country has to dig a little deeper in this innovation pillar to maintain its ranking is how I see it. Let me explain where:


IP protection clearly plays a critical part in the Swiss attraction and in their emphasis on the technology and R&D competencies does seem to dominate the thinking for Swiss innovation.  R&D institutions in Switzerland are without doubt among the best; they also do try and create a good collaborative environment between the different parties. Where I feel it often misses out is in the softer, value enhancing aspects of service and design within innovation and working more closely with small and medium sized organisations. They make up the economic engine of Switzerland but are not given the innovation recognition and support they deserve.  Partly the reason for this is that innovation design and service is often difficult to capture in economic terms but its growing  part in Swiss economic activity needs to be captured more, it needs to be seen. It deserves a more thoughtful policy approach as service and design will make up an increasing source of productivity in the years to come.


In Singapore they are certainly far more ‘highly’ entrepreneurial and well coordinated in there management of creative innovation to attract foreign investment. There is a dedicated focus on what brings economic activity into Singapore. Their Economic Development Board (EDB) is a formidable extension of total Government commitment to competitiveness and inward attraction. When they decide on a focus, they put the required resource and commitment to it but sometimes I feel, they are ‘reacting’ and keeping pace with global changes but often innovation does not seem to be deepened enough as they continually move on. A broader value of innovation and all its different parts needs more adoption appreciation and understanding. As a country it must be the most ‘wired’ society around, it has a very involved and dynamic public sector engaged with society in general, yet it often seems to pull away from the final closure, that deepening of its innovation capability and bridging those gaps. It seems to sustain through change and not through sustainability of innovation.

A deeper recognition is needed.

Innovation needs more recognition and increased emphasis, not just in these two countries that I chose to operate within, but for all others that surround them that have the same equal need to grow their economies after this recent set of tough economic times. Innovation needs a more dedicated resource. For me this should be a move towards a Ministry of Innovation.

Innovation is far too important not to be well understood, not just to have a dedication policy unit but an ongoing deepening resource that has a ongoing understanding of the broad and deep needs innovation requires to contribute to our economic wealth.  Of course each country will focus on selected areas but it can miss out significantly if it does not evaluate across the entire spectrum that makes up innovation activity and that calls for a different approach in the future, a more holistic one, less opportunistic.

More on this will follow, as I believe innovation shapes our futures and countries need to deepen their understanding of it to thrive. At present I need to get back to my plans for my trip to Singapore. It is  a place that is always changing.

A Formula for Sustaining Competitive Advantage through Innovation

Sustainability is central to innovation’s future progress

Today’s challenge for me is not only to be building the innovation capacity but also to be establishing clear ways on how we should set about sustaining it. Increasingly it is necessary for organizations to have a capability and capacity to sustain Innovation so it can provide the stimulus for lasting growth. To get there though, it does seems this must be through continued learning so your capabilities become stronger, evolving and more unique, thus making them more difficult for competitors to understand and imitate.

Let me outline an innovation framework that builds capability through a sustained approach.

When you set out to build capability to be sustaining you need to consider there are two types of capabilities, distinctive, which are the characteristics of the organization which cannot be replicated by others and reproductive, which can be bought in by the competition but always need to need to be appropriate to any objectives you are trying to achieve.

Focusing on improving the capabilities of your people needs in my opinion five essential elements and applying these through consistent application and measurement and sustaining this within your activity leads to a greater potential to sustain innovation and will lead to sustainable competitive advantage.

To achieve greater sustainability I believe the five elements within this model can provide the path to this.

SCA = II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE

So what is within this framework?

Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) comes from the combining effects of the following:

  • II Innovation Intensity– its the degree of adoption, and uptake, the commitment to the investments made and explored, the how, what and where. How all the multiple level of activities and the focus of the intensity given to building capabilities to innovate come together, wanting to innovate.
  • EE Entrepreneurial Energies– this is more on how you set about, promote and generate the internal environment as entrepreneurial to enable innovation in all its different forms to take hold and be seen as a learning environment people want to get involved with as they can readily identify with.
  • MLC Market Learning Competence– these give a clearer awareness on what and where to acquire from and then take the market lessons from. The key need is to orientate always towards, and generally get to the heart of, where innovation takes place- in the market place and with your customers, knowing their real needs and also figuring out their unmet ones also!
  • OC Organizational Learning– knowing the differences in the different ways of learning by linking the different intellectual capitals and combining the complementary assets needed to make them more dynamic.
  • RNE- Relationship & Networking Effects– the supporting and enhancing aspects of making greater connections, collaborations and exchanges so as to speed up the process of innovation, reduce or contain costs and enhance your understanding through these external relationships and getting closer to knowing where latent knowledge lies, to assist and share this internally for greater impact and result for all.

The make-up of each of these five elements has a significant set of activities to structure around but can deliver a clear set of benefits. These provide the necessary intensity of purpose.

What is the result of adopting the SCA framework?

ROII = Investment x Activity x Change (learning environment)/over Results Impact

It is applying this ROII that can measure this investment. The sustaining impact can be measured as continued investment across this framework pays off over time. I would argue this organizing framework is a good starting point to build your SCA.

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The Amplified Individual needed for Innovation

I have been reading a fascinating report compiled for Nesta ( entitled “Amplified Leicester- Impact on social capital and cohesion”, written by Thilo Boeck and Sue Thomas of De Montford University (

As we all struggle with the increasing needs and complexity of innovation capacity it is the power of combining a greater diversity that holds real promise in the future

In this report it explores at the intersection of difference, amplification and transliteracy the achievements of a city-wide experiment in Leicester to grow the innovation capacity across the city’s disparate and diverse communities, and to share new skills which are fast becoming essential in 21st century workplaces and communities. It looks at social capital and uses emerging social media and provides a framework that allows for a diverse group to move towards cohesion and amplification.

It took the emerging ‘amplified individual’ based on research conducted by the Institute for the Future, Palo Alto, California and other diverse strands to combine them in this project that seemed to yield some fascinating results. Take a read here by downloading the report here

What struck me was this amplified individual’s definition. Why I’ve wanted to gain a clearer understanding of younger generations different skills and characteristics and these helps significantly and to quote from the report.

So what are amplified individuals?

According to the ongoing research they share four important characteristics: they are highly social; highly collective; highly improvisational; and highly augmented

First, they are highly social. They use tagging software, wikis, social networks, and other human intelligence aggregators to supplement their individual knowledge and to understand what their individual contributions mean in the context of the organisation, giving meaning to even the most menial tasks.

Amplified individuals are highly collective, taking advantage of online collaboration software, mobile communications tools, and immersive virtual environments to engage globally distributed team members with highly specialised and complementary capacities.

Amplified individuals are also highly improvisational, capable of banding together to form effective networks and infrastructures, both social and professional.

Finally, amplified individuals are highly augmented. They employ visualisation tools, attention filters, e-displays, and ambient presence systems to enhance their cognitive abilities and coordination skills, thus enabling them to quickly access and process massive amounts of information.

According to the Institute for the Future, an amplified skill set emerges from groups with these features:”As networked amplification becomes the norm, individuals are developing new super-individual skills that enable them to thrive in an increasingly complex and collaborative work culture.”

The result is an amplified skill set of ten characteristics, outlined in the report- take a view if having fresh insights into what is emerging as the new skills sets needed for a global connected innovating world. Again the report can be downloaded here

I always enjoy Nesta’s imaginative work in supporting projects like this one. If you are unaware NESTA is the UK’s foremost independent expert on how innovation can solve some of the economic and social challenges. Its work is enabled by an endowment, funded by the National Lottery, and it operates at no cost to the government or taxpayer.

The yin yang of innovation

Recognizing its dual force

Scholars tell us that there are two natural complementary, yet contradictory forces at work within our universe. The Chinese call these ‘Yin Yang’. Yin is regarded as more passive, receptive, more outside-in, whereas Yang is more active, creative and inside-out. These are seemingly opposing forces but interconnected and interdependent, one gives rise to the other, they actually reinforce each other. Yin & yang seemingly have the following characteristics: they are opposing, yet equally rooted together; they have the power to transform each other and eventually are balanced out.

Yin Yang in Idea Management

As a good example of these opposite forces we often are required to both generate a large number of different ideas, and apply the countervailing need of selecting from among those that best can meet the organizations objectives. It is critically important to have this ‘flow and balance’ and allow it to constantly evolve.

So by this example we see that ’ Yin and Yang’ are both dynamic,  sometimes opposing forces, constantly interacting with each other balancing conflicting needs (and aims) but also recognizing that one determines the other and you need them both to strengthen innovation. We need these two opposing forces in all we do to manage the ideas for innovation. These often do conflict with one another in their needs and actions but they both need to be in force to bring out all that is needed to be evaluated in the idea process so real innovation occurs for ‘something new that gives additional value’.

This balancing of yin and yang needed in the above idea management example in effect follows a constant changing course but there is also a natural order. Equally though this seemingly is always within a constantly evolving innovation system that reflects the constant change going on around us. We simply cannot get ‘fixed’ in our ways, and it is this constant flow that system engineers have often never fully understood within managing the innovation process. Often they want to separate the parts of the system attempting to take out the ‘conflict’ innovation truly needs to have on a constant basis.

Yin Yang in risk and opportunity

‘Risk and opportunity’ are yet another of those two opposites for the yin yang of innovation, that also need that constant balance for innovation to thrive. We need to arrive at our own point of “chi” to balance these. To arrive at this balance we should look for the right interactions between the two sides, for instance:

  • Recognition that on each side of the coin (risk/opportunity) will enable better decisions
  • You seize better opportunities with confidence if you can quantify the risks
  • Recognition of the two can help you allocate funds more wisely
  • You achieve a better delivery on an improving scale of understanding both aspects
  • You anticipate problems far earlier

Moving the organization from being risk-adverse through experimental to seeking opportunities needs a constant force and attention. Managing its tension is essential to gain greater innovation effect. Effective risk management depends equally on good quality of information- the same as “seeing” opportunity; it simply needs a good framework that provides suitable scope for sensible risk-taking and exploring opportunity.

Yin and Yang of Creativity

Being creative has both a yin and a yang aspect also. Creative people tend to be smart and quick yet naïve at the same time and need often reminding of the whole system and how their ideas can or cannot fit into this. Creativity as we are aware needs a fun and a relaxed environment yet a large measure of professionalism. The need for having an open brainstorming environment needs to be balanced with ensuring this is well-structured to capture what the purpose of the brainstorming was about. We all have ‘unconscious skills’ that needs stirring and awakening as we are asked more and more often  to connect all the often conflicting ‘pieces’ to see a new possibility or resolve a difficult problem. Having different perspectives available that provides diversity, opens up our minds yet equally allows for placing these random pieces into new order. So the ‘yin and yang’ are needed in the creative process of innovation where you need the two opposites of managing differences and harnessing diversity, so as to be actively be in conflict but equally complement each other to bring out better results .

Yin Yang for designing positive tension into innovation

Finally we actually need to build a greater ‘tension’ into our innovation processes. Finding the balance or appropriateness to achieving the goals of innovation are not natural tensions, they need to be designed in. Within innovation understanding the context is critical, it needs to be fully understood, equally coordinating the outcomes are critical as well. Both create tension and need to be explained. Context gives us the purpose, the bounds, the outline in structures and capabilities, roles and commitments to achieve the result that is being required. The coordination is what leadership is concerned with, to keep bringing the parts back to the whole as the outcome needed. The pursuit of operational excellence is another example it often becomes an end unto itself and gets somehow disconnected from the mission of generating growth and creating value. So yin yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent, often in conflict but needing to be complementary opposites within a greater whole. Successfully managing the natural tensions should be viewed for innovation as not conflicts to be avoided but as opportunities to be managed and converted. This gives a greater coherence and consistency from ‘open’ participation and engagement. Leadership has the role of getting the right balance, the right design tension into the innovating system, so as to bring out the best from this participation of all the opposing forces for greater innovation opportunity.

Recognizing yin yang evolves.

Finally, we also have to recognize evolution and by extension that innovation is constantly moving on. As the universe is changing every day, it is not easy to find a common method to discover the unchanging rules in any activity as they all are constantly changing and we have to somehow recognize this in our appreciation of supporting innovation. The ‘fluidness’ in innovation makes it hard to manage. How do you get the balance right in managing the innovation activity? It is not an easy one to solve and needs constant management and causes consistent concern. Looking at innovation in a different way, more adaptive in nature might help. The opposing forces of yin and yang are important to consider within this.

Recognizing the power of ‘yin yang for innovation’ can give you the order of things and how and why they relate to each other. Complementary and conflicting opposites do contribute to a greater innovation understanding but they do need consistent attention to manage.  Whoever did say managing innovation was easy?


Exnovation’s place in the innovation life cycle

I was some time back reminded about the term “exnovation” in an interim report prepared for NESTA by the City University, London and the Work Psychology Group entitled “Characteristics & Behaviours of Innovative People in Organizations.”

Exnovation is if you were unaware, is at the end of the innovation life-cycle, where it “discards” or even purges existing practices to allow the organization to adopt different and fresh thinking to any new innovation activities. A number of writers have discussed exnovation but its first use was attributed to Kimberly in 1981, who described innovation as a series of processes which in combination define an innovation life-cycle (Fiona Patterson, City University for NESTA).

Exnovation can also be an opportunity to discard existing practices or improve on them. During projects, a lot of junk tends to build up in terms of policies, practices, rules and regulations – many of which may have outlived their utility. It’s an examination of what’s working and what doesn’t. Exnovation gives us the opportunity to jettison what is no longer relevant and the space to create something more relevant to the current project.

The practice of exnovation at the end of a project can also enable us to develop a fresh perspective and acknowledge the ingenuity that often takes place as an idea evolves from concept to a successful launch into the marketplace. We need to appreciate these moments of inspiration and give them their appropriate recognition. This final life-cycle step can measure the new creativity and competence that was brought into play and so produce a more dynamic innovation system that seeks constant renewal through exnovation.

Another area where I believe the process of exnovation has some value is with open innovation. Because open innovation invites people from outside of the organization to be part of innovation projects, the conditions and participants tend to be different for each project. A formal review process should be put in place and the end of each open innovation project to determine what was successful about the project, and what wasn’t. These learnings should then be incorporated into our innovation processes.

Finally, I think exnovation is very relevant and necessary when creative destruction or the need to disrupt is required – seriously challenging the existing practices to spot new opportunities.

In summary, then, exnovation is the process of eliminating the unsustainable, irrelevant or unsuitable to constantly improve and renew the innovation process. Have you adopted this practice yet?

The real desperate need for innovation

Our past business models are not sustaining us, to take us forward. We have made this ‘rod for our own backs’ by producing  thousands of competent managers, risk-adverse not risk- taking managers, with our business leaders continually look over their shoulders or in the rear view mirror who have become short term in most of their actions. Governments still take ‘adversarial’ positions. Business still seeks short term results. The end result of much of the activities of the past decade have led us to build a ‘failure framework’, one more sustaining old model being layered on top of other equally out dated approaches, and not the ones that can shift us truly up a gear or two, into a new age of prosperity.

I would argue we are in a worryingly desperate situation, on a broader front than just products and sectors alone, when it comes to applying innovation. What I believe that does need tackling through innovation is at a higher level, at the society level, and this is where there is a truly ‘urgent’ need for fresh innovative thinking, to sow the seeds of real, lasting change. Products and sector change comes as a result of this shift of focus to the higher level of innovation engagement as it forms the ‘call to action’ framework.

I believe it is through social innovation we see the greatest call for change. We are faced with enormous challenges like aging populations, climate change, migration, social divides, chronic diseases, growing behavioral problems, diversity challenges in cities and countries, transitions into adulthood, addition, crime and punishment, learning disabilities, education inequality, conflicts and mutual resentment, rising long-term health related conditions, the effects of affluence and a greater search for happiness and community belonging. These are the truly ‘desperate’ areas of innovation need, that should hold our attention and we become galvanized behind to change- we need true innovation, innovations that alter our world for the better. Today much of what we do is simply incremental. Is this good enough, I for one don’t believe so?