Saturday, September 17, 2005

Forum for Innovation Management

Many succesful innovations are developed as skunk work.

I was invited to speak at the Forum for Innovation Management (FIM) last Tuesday. It’s a high-profile debate forum for policy makers, academics and industry representatives founded by low-profile Karl-Adam Bonniers Stiftelse (K A Bonnier foundation) together with partners Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES) and Stockholms Teknikhöjd.

Forum for Innovation Management actively promotes the “innovative force in Sweden” by arranging debates, seminars and conferences on the suject.
In April 2004, Forum for Innovation Management published its first publication, the book “Svensk Innovationskraft – Visionen måste vara starkare än motståndet”, available for download here, here or here.

The book (only in Swedish) consists of 24 interviews of experts and decision makers within the area, about the process from academic research results to the final product or service. The common opinion among the interviewed is that Sweden cannot turn the ideas into products. The big enterprises produces two thirds of all the commercialized ideas, an exceptional large part. There are many new businesses in Sweden, but way too few new entrepreneurs is involved in creating companies with growth potential.

It’s worrying as the old large companies are consolidated into even larger global groups of companies. They become much focused subsidiaries and there is seldom any technique or system to seize the new innovative ideas produces within these companies. Who will take care of all left over good, but note core ideas when all the layers of middle management from headquarters in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands etc, must inspect and examine all projects?

On the contrary there are menu proofs that new ideas – the Macintosh, Losec (Prilosec), IBM PC – was developed as skunk work, despite the organisation the developers worked in. The problem is not only more official procedures, but also many different attitudes and frames of reference in the large global companies. In a global market there will probably be produced less innovations.

Up to the Second World War Sweden was quite weak in research and development, but quite strong in entrepreneurship. Most of the Swedish large companies were formed prior to the Second World War and based its products on improvements and further developments of foreign research results, much like Taiwan and South Korea today. Sweden also had a faster growth than average up to the 1960s. Then it all changed.


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