Does Innovation Potential Vary Among Nations and Cultures?
In today’s competitive era, innovation is necessary not only for the differentiation of any organization but also for its very survival. Building a culture of innovation is a complex phenomenon and is influenced by many external factors. Does a nation's environment and culture at large influence innovation?
Israel's success story as a start-up pioneer is captured in the book Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. Israel has 7.1 million people, is only sixty years old, has been in a constant state of war since its founding, and has no natural resources. But it produces more start-up companies than nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the UK.
One of the innovations that came out of Israel is Google Suggest, the list of suggestions that appears instantly in menu form as you type a search request. The innovation success of Israel is attributed to two factors—mandatory military service and immigration.
Denmark is an important European hub for companies such as Microsoft, IBM, HP, and Google. Denmark is rather infamous for its high sales and income taxes, but the government support received in return allows individuals and organizations to feel more secure when taking risks. More risk taking in turn means more innovation potential.
Jugaad—a term quite famous in South Asian countries—refers to to a creative or innovative idea providing a quick, alternative way to solve a problem. Though controversial in its adoption, the term became quite popular in this region in the quest to innovate when the means and resources are less.
Our cultural background helps explain how we make decisions and what thinking patterns we apply to solve problems. Due to its citizens' military background, Israel has a culture in which people are able to work without much guidance from the top and therefore are conditioned to solve problems on their own.
Hartmut Esslinger, in his book A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business, has this to say about Japanese culture, "People don't make mistakes; mistakes are something that develops over time." This very notion really takes away all the focus of personal blame—possibly helping people not worry too much about failures, which is a core ingredient in innovation.
An interesting study depicted in an infographic by Yang Liu demonstrates the differences between Eastern and Western cultures especially when it comes to problem solving approaches.
You cannot rule out the role that internal motivation plays in embracing innovation, and you cannot generalize cultures and the behaviors exhibited by nations. There will certainly be exceptions to the rule, but what these examples show is that nations and cultures do have an impact on basic thinking patterns and the problem solving ways of the people. And these in turn impact the innovation potential.