The Global Innovation Outlook (GIO) is a major new initiative we started in IBM two years ago to transform the way we look at innovation and strategic planning. We decided to complement our in-house strategy efforts by sitting together with thought leaders from around the world, from business, academia, government and other key constituencies, to collectively peer into the future and identify the emerging trends, insights and opportunities that should inform our strategies. In November of 2004 we published the results of GIO 1.0, and earlier this year we published the GIO 2.0 report.
Last week I was in Mexico where I participated in a meeting to discuss the results of the 2006 GIO 2.0 with invited guests from across Latin America, representing the private and public sectors, universities and the media. I gave an overview of the GIO findings and recommendations, as well as of IBM's Innovation that Matters initiative.
I also moderated a panel on The Intellectual Property Marketplace. One of the recommendations in GIO 2.0 was that IBM should collaborate with top IP experts and develop the principles needed to underlie a smoothly functioning IP marketplace. We did this over the summer and the results were published in a recently released report, Building a New IP Marketplace.
A second panel on The Future of the Enterprise was moderated by Colombian economist and journalist Alejandro Santos who is Director of the magazine Semana, one of the most important publications in Colombia. The panel touched on a number of important subjects, but a recurring theme was whether Mexico and other countries in Latin America can successfully compete in the world's increasingly global, innovation-based economy.
Raul Rivera Andueza, a Chilean member of the panel, observed that many in Latin America view innovation as something that the gringos up North do particularly well but that is beyond the grasp of their own countries. Rivera explained that such people are confusing innovations with inventions.
Inventions are usually associated with science and engineering, as well as with top universities and research labs, where the more advanced countries like the US, UK, Germany and Japan hold a definite advantage. Innovations, on the other hand, take place in the marketplace. Some innovations are a result of major inventions, but many are not - they have more to do with the entrepreneurial spirit of people who bring new ideas to market as well as with open markets that encourage the development of such new ideas and are receptive to them. There is no reason whatsoever, added Rivera, why the countries of Latin American could not do well in coming up with lots of innovative marketplace ideas. What is needed is to create a climate of confidence in which people feel free to innovate and do so, rather than feeling that they are being left behind.
Another panel participant, Sergio Fernandez, a Mexican engineer and entrepreneur, commented that it is now easier than ever to launch a new company, which can do business not just in its immediate vicinity but across a country and around the world. This is because the IT infrastructure and business services needed to reach distant customers and markets are now available from a variety of companies that specialize in providing such services to businesses. In the past, only relatively large companies had that kind of market reach available to them. Now, even very small businesses can have a global reach. As a result of the Internet and a thriving open marketplace, the world is indeed becoming flat.
Fernandez mentioned that his parents worked hard to develop their business years ago, and in their time you could realistically build only one business in your lifetime. He himself started a business about ten years ago which took him a fair bit of time and capital because he had to build a lot of the needed services himself. But today, with many of those services available out there to the smallest of businesses, e.g., shipping products, collecting payments, and designing a good website, - one can start a business and get going in a relatively short time and with a relatively small initial investment. In his opinion, this means that you can innovate by experimenting in the marketplace, and trying out several ideas until you find the winning ones, something that was much, much harder in the past. Fernandez comments directly addressed another major topic that came up in the panel, namely whether small and mid-size companies, which are the vast majority of businesses in Latin America, will be able to compete effectively in the 21st century innovation economy.
The general themes of the panel were eloquently summarized by the moderator, Alejandro Santos. He reminded us of the advice given to writers by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy who said "describe your village and you will be universal." Santos illustrated Tolstoy's maxim with the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose world renowned novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is based on Aracataca - the small river village of his childhood. Garcia Marquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature and is one of the best known living writers in the world.
In other words, in today’s Internet-based flat world, reaching global markets is perhaps the easy part. But, to be a successful innovator, you need something very compelling to offer those markets so you can stand out from the competition. Where do you find such innovative, compelling ideas? Look no further than those areas and places that you know best - inside your head and around you. Come up with imaginative new products and services, and more than ever, - the world can then be your oyster.