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Secret sauce: What does it take to innovate?

(ThinkStock)

(ThinkStock)

Innovate or die, or so the saying goes.

But that’s easier said than done, even for start-ups, entrepreneurs and ambitious careerists. In some cases, countries or companies have the smarts and the people to pull it off innovative businesses or ideas, but don’t always have the infrastructure in place. In other instances, the art of entrepreneurship — and innovation — can be lost in the day-to-day management of a small company.

Creativity and innovation are topics some LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on over the past week. Here is what some of them had to say.

Tim Brown, chief executive officer at IDEO

Brown, head of the California-based design and ideas firm, hears this a lot from clients: ‘I’m not a creative person’. “It’s an offhand comment, meant as an excuse for not being able to come up with innovative ideas on their own, but behind it lies a fear of failure — of being judged by others,” wrote Brown in his post  The Secret to Innovation: Think Like a Kid

Who is to blame for this feeling? “While it’s tempting to blame oppressive corporate culture for this crisis of creative confidence, its roots can often be traced to the classroom,” Brown wrote. Young children at play are uninhibited in their creativity, he wrote. “Toddlers will belt out off-key tunes at the top of their lungs, dance with abandon down the aisles of a supermarket, or colour on walls and floors, never questioning their ability.”

But between the toddler years and later school years, something changes.  “Maybe because of a remark by a parent, teacher, or peer, or maybe because of their own insecurities — many kids lose confidence in their creative instincts,” Brown wrote. Inspiring teenagers and young adults, then, must be addressed, Brown argued.

“The world is full of complex, thorny challenges that require innovative solutions. It’s critical that young people start flexing their creative muscles today so they can take the lead in addressing those challenges in the future,” he wrote. They, and those already in the corporate world ,  need to learn to think like kids again.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director at Biocon Limited

India is particularly handicapped when it come to innovation, wrote India-based biotech executive  Mazumdar-Shaw, in her post Can India Create the Next Apple or Google?

 “Real innovation has an inherent element of high risk, which Indians are averse to,” she wrote. “As a result, you do not see people in India investing in real innovation. Investors in India prefer predictable, imitative business models and me-too products, where they have the visibility of assured returns…. business models that are truly innovative, first of its kind, and thus untested, find no takers among the investor community here.”

What could be done to turn that around? For starters, more venture financing, explained Mazumdar-Shaw.

“What India needs is a national innovation ecosystem that puts in place a financing cycle: academia generate ideas, especially those based on science and technology, which are incubated to proof of concept through government-sponsored seed and incubation funding and then taken to market through business intervention backed by venture funding,” she wrote. “In today’s knowledge-driven economy, innovation is the primary driver of progress. India’s ability to generate wealth and create social good will come to naught unless we monetize innovative ideas by unshackling our entrepreneurial spirit.”

Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, vice president of innovation and research at Singularity University

“China produces more than one million engineering graduates a year—which is seven times as many as America. China has already invested tens of billions of dollars in research… (and) its government is focused on building an innovation economy,” wrote Wadhwa in his post Chinese Can Innovate — but China Can’t.

With all of that, “you would think China is destined to become the innovation capital of the world,” he wrote. “But the innovation is not happening.”

The reason why may be simple: “Innovation comes from creative people who challenge authority and take risks — who exchange ideas and experiment at the fringe” he wrote. “This is not possible in China.”

Incentives and rewards for innovation are based on quantity, not innovation quality, he wrote. That can be seen from the way engineering degrees are awarded to the way patents and academic publications are handled.

And while Chinese companies “can take Western products, adapt them to local needs and develop nifty new features” there is still “the negative effect of copying and stealing technology. It creates a disincentive to innovate. Why experiment and risk failure when you can duplicate something that works?” wrote Wadhwa. “You see this on a large scale with Chinese cars, technology companies and consumer products. They are all knock-offs of Western products.”

Wadhwa argues that less government involvement is key to innovation in China. That would help unleash the talents of the Chinese students he has taught in China, he wrote.

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