Innovation — it's more than just a buzzword
“If creativity is about inventing new things, then innovation is about making them real,” said the American economist, Theodore Levitt. Is that right and does Creative Dock's statement Creation by Doing correspond to reality? We sat down with Linda Armbruster, Director of Innovation at Creative Dock to get her perspective on innovation and impact.
The recent 7th edition of the largest event in the world of innovation in Prague stirred an extremely topical discussion: “The theme of this year’s event cannot be anything other than opportunities and ways to overcome the challenging times we are all going through,” said the organizers. It’s not surprising the main focus was mainly on thinking about how to innovatively combine different areas and find an ecological solution to the energy crisis. We are proud that Creative Dock’s Director of Innovation Linda Armbruster hosted a special seminar at the event.
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According to Linda, innovation has turned into a buzzword, lately. But, she says, it doesn’t mean innovations themselves lost their importance. In her seminar, she tried to look at innovation as a spectrum of activities that foster exploitation as well as exploration in order to build resilient and ambidextrous companies.
“We can’t focus solely on the creation of efficiencies or incremental changes that sustain the firm, but have to develop new value propositions, business models, and other types of growth engines.”
How would you define the most important innovation for the current economic situation?
In the past, innovation used to be a key driver of economic growth, helping us to improve productivity. However, since the 70s, technological advancements have not generated the type of sustained productivity growth that we experienced in previous industrial revolutions. Today, we are living in a digital economy, so I believe the most impactful innovations will be of digital nature. The latest advances in artificial intelligence, smart machines, cloud computing, etc. are expanding the frontiers of the digital revolution. But we will only profit from these if at the same time we rethink competition policy, regulatory regimes, infrastructures, workforce development, social protection frameworks, tax policies, etc.
Which innovations may help to solve the energy crisis?
I don’t know the best answer to solve the acute crisis — that we’re facing the consequences of compromising our security and values over years of cheap energy.
Short-time, I guess we need some kind of wartime effort — explicit guidelines as individuals, households, and companies — for what we need to do to make it through these next months. Service design principles can help with nudging people to the right behaviors. Participatory design can help bring the relevant stakeholders to one table to find solutions.
As for a longer-term view, whatever we build now, in terms of infrastructure, will be there for years. So we’ve got to find ways to scale existing technology that is based on harnessing energy from renewables. The ideas and technologies are there, improving, so how do we implement them at scale and fast? How can we harness the goodwill of many, who are invested in making changes and actively looking for what they can do?
What is the “greatest innovation of all times” in your opinion?
There are so many great inventions, some very known, including penicillin, electricity, the printing press, birth control, the internet, and some much less. Personally, I am very curious about some of the recent medical advancements like CRISPR (it’s a powerful tool for editing genomes, meaning it allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function — note of the editor), that could potentially change millions of lives but also open up huge ethical questions.
Why should a prospering company seek new innovations when it is operating smoothly anyway?
I think we learned this with COVID-19. Things can change in an instant, and boy did they. If you’re sitting pretty and assume that the world won’t change or evolve — especially when peoples’ livelihoods and safety are on the line — this is just irresponsible leadership. And besides the imminent fact that consumers and conditions change, incumbents find themselves challenged by unforeseen competitors.
“If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else eventually will.“
In which country are companies best placed to innovate?
Whether corporations are Swiss or German or Mexican, they all have the same struggles: how to innovate despite the slowness and rigidity of corporate structures. Even when there is leadership willing to invest in building in-house innovation, oftentimes even these highly-qualified teams don’t manage to launch, let alone scale solutions. That’s where corporate venture building comes into play, and provides the needed solution for companies that are struggling to get innovation initiatives off the ground, gain traction, and most importantly: make an impact.
Which is the most innovative nation or region today?
We live in a globalized world so I truly don’t think that there is one most innovative region. Sure, there are some local cultures and environments that may be more open to experimentation and “thinking outside the box” or legislation that better supports entrepreneurship, such as Silicon Valley or Israel. But innovation is something that can be taught from a young age, it’s not about one country or region versus another. So the question is does a region enable or hinder this through passive or active measurements?
“It’s the most natural thing, really: innovation is play. It’s resourcefulness, it’s imagination, it’s problem-solving, it’s about always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”
You yourself are Swiss and co-founded the Swiss innovation company Spark Works, which was recently acquired by Creative Dock. How do the Swiss companies compare?
Switzerland has a lot of concentrated capital and is known for high-quality, high-precision outputs. But we have very few natural resources, which is why we find ourselves in dire need of angling for other types of products and services. So for us, the digitalization of services is a very important industry.