‘In 1965 the world produced roughly the same number of bicycles and cars each year — about 20m — and you might have thought that the more modern technology would prevail. But by 2003 the annual output of bicycles had surged to 100m, far outstripping car production at 42m. As it happens, Japanese companies still dominate the manufacture of high-end bicycle parts.’
What is innovation? We know we want it. We know we need it. We know that whole economies depend on it; that global realities have changed almost beyond recognition because of it. The answer to the question should be Limitlessness. And yet the Innovation Conversation is increasingly in a Silicon Valley chokehold: denoting one route, one region, one approach to problem solving.
A recent FT feature explores the ways in which Japan – long written off by the world’s innovation investors as a ‘”Graveyard”‘ – ‘”terrible demographics, no innovation, smacked around by the US, China and Korea”‘ – continues to demonstrate a depth and mastery of innovation that the quick-wins West has yet to achieve. (‘Which is more innovative’, it asks. ‘A ride-hailing app, which cleverly mashes up existing technologies, or an artificial spider silk that could revolutionise clothing?’).
There is much that can be achieved from the old idea as well as the new. To innovate is to ‘make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products’. It is not simply an app. Post-Brexit, innovation will be more necessary than ever; discussion among industry leaders at The Times’ CEO Summit last week
was heavily focused on the need for better British innovation that puts our nation’s intellectual property back on the map. To achieve this, we must interrogate what innovation can mean and where it can be realised; remembering our past as well as our present to find our way forward – and sustaining investment in the British minds we need to make it a reality.