Scaling-up innovations that are worth tackling

January 20, 2023 | 13:00
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“Clarify, ideate, develop, and implement” are the broad underlying design-thinking principles that guide the innovation processes at all levels of enterprises, from your large multinationals to grassroots entrepreneurs. Globally, there has been substantial demand for innovation and human capital in innovation, as evidenced by the growing number of innovation labs.
Scaling-up innovations that are worth tackling
Dr. Seng Kiong Kok - Interim senior programme manager for Innovation and Enterprise, RMIT University Vietnam

This is even more true for the Asian region, which has overtaken Europe in terms of the number of corporate innovation centres. Vietnam is no different and in fact ranks the second highest with relation to innovation performance among the lower-middle income group of nations and has, in the previous few years, outperformed wealthier nations such as India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Innovation is currently a trigger word within the corporate world, with recent survey data suggesting that the notion of innovation consistently ranks in the top three priorities for businesses. There is also evidence that groups that have invested heavily in innovation over the recent pandemic have demonstrated increased performance over their counterparts, according to a report from BCG.

However, whilst there is substantial interest in innovation, it is still a very difficult concept to define given its idiosyncratic nature to the business. What we do see is that very few businesses are keen to be seen as non-participative within the innovation landscape.

This lack of a prototypical definition could potentially be an explanation for the lack of ability of businesses to scale their innovation investments so that they generate value for the businesses.

In other words, whilst businesses here are able to adopt similar practices to their industry peers or predecessors when building innovation labs or other innovation infrastructure, the ensuing outcomes can vary substantially.

A review of the extant literature highlights three core areas – a lack of company culture, poor consideration for intra- and intercompany collaborations, and an absence of appreciation for organisational goals and alignment with corporate objectives. Put simply, businesses have the specialisms and technical knowledge to innovate, but they lack the leadership infrastructure to coordinate, guide, and drive these resources towards achieving firm objectives.

So, how do we confront this issue? Before the launch of the new Innovation and Enterprise major at RMIT University Vietnam, our team of academics engaged business leaders and industry partners in conversation about innovation readiness and scalability to better understand the solutions to this corporate innovation and value gap. We discovered four broad interventions.

Firstly, there is a need to look beyond your organisations to drive innovation. Whilst utilising and developing internal innovation resources is a good thing, augmenting these dynamics with external mechanisms can be one of the additional impulses towards narrowing the innovation and value gap.

Secondly, developing an understanding of organisational structure helps shape the initiation of these valuable innovation resources. Organisational structure here refers to both tangible structures such as branch networks and geographic location, as well as less-tangible socio-political structural assemblies such as leadership and governance arrangements.

Thirdly, an appreciation for the necessity to cultivate and support diverse teams. Innovation is, or can be, a disruptive process, requiring organisations and their people to better understand current pain-points and address any fixedness in thinking to generate solutions.

Finally, there is a need to understand the regulatory landscape in relation to aligning this with organisational goals. Do note that innovation really only takes place in the face of obstacles, and the local and international regulatory landscape helps to parametrise institutional innovation.

These interventions for narrowing the corporate innovation and value gap will also have implications on future generations, especially current and graduating students. The message is that there is a need to be mindful of skills complementarity and adaptability in light of the ensuing transformation of our economic systems.

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By Seng Kiong Kok

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