The innovation policy problem is not just an innovation problem

It’s an engagement and integration problem

The insight that innovation investment offers ‘the only tenable prospect of economic resilience in a world struggling to come to terms with a seemingly endless succession of ever-more daunting challenges’ may seem to many like an epiphany which governments are embracing ‘not a moment too soon’.

Unfortunately, the corollary ‘now that we’ve seen the light and we know what to do, let’s do it right away’ is not so much a prescription for prudent investment as it is for self-delusion, recklessness and disappointment.

The reality is that we have only seen a little light, we need to know much more, we need to take steps to find out what it is that we need to know, we need to involve all concerned in the process of working out how to take ‘innovation acceleration’ forward.

Here are some questions that we need to ask regarding what might be wrong with the way we invest in innovation now:

    • is it just a ‘scale and quantity thing’?:  i.e., ‘does it just need more startups and/or more money?’

    • is it ‘just a startups thing’, i.e., ‘is there something we should/can do to make established (non-startup) organisations invest more in innovation?’

    • is it ‘a methodology thing’, i.e., ‘is successful innovation investment a result of doing investment and/or innovation in a special/different/new/better way?’

    • is it a ‘measurement/goals/research thing’: i.e., ‘are we properly equipped to assess or specify how to increase innovation in a way which is beneficial to the economy as a whole?’

    • is it a sector/scale thing: do organisations in different sectors and/or of different sizes need to invest in and do innovation in different ways?

    • is it a public/private thing?

    • is it a centralised/localised/top down/bottom up thing?

Knee-jerk immediate responses to the ‘innovation epiphany’ are pretty much guaranteed to be doomed to failure if we don’t begin by trying to answer these questions.

Whatever we do about promoting innovation, we need to recognise that it is a holistic problem: innovation in one place affects everything else. This is not an excuse for ‘analysis paralysis’: it just means that we need to start asking bigger questions about innovation investment, rather than just desperately pinning our hopes on a few impressive-sounding ‘quick fixes’.

We need to find ways to productively engage all those concerned (i.e., everyone) in an innovation investment debate which tackles (at the very least) all the questions above, right now.