Innovation Economies / by Scott Smith

About three years ago, having returned from living in the UK for almost four years, I began thinking about the contrasts between different national cultures' acceptance of new technologies. In my lifetime in the US, and probably in the lifetimes of several generations before me, "new" has been perceived as a good thing. A steady flow of new technologies have been viewed as one of the engines of the economy. Capital systems, manufacturing, advertising, and many other sectors of the economy have been driven by it. My experiences in the UK, Scandinavia, Asia and elsewhere have shown me that different countries and cultures seem to have quite different attitudes toward innovation--seeing this has been one of the benefits of looking at technology uptake on a global basis for the past decade or more.

Being an analytical person, my thoughts at the time focused on whether one could create an index to measure receptivity to innovation on a national basis. Finally, someone has attempted to do this: a group called the Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity (IIIP) last week released the initial findings of a study of 12 countries in which it probed receptivity to new technologies, perception of benefits and intent to purchase new products.

The results, which the IIIP say it has not fully analyzed, are interesting. According to the IIIP Innovation Confidence Index, rapidly developing economies such as the United Arab Emirates, India, Brazil and China rank as more receptive economies to innovation than European nations such as Finland and the Netherlands, with the US sitting somewhere in the middle. One driving factor in higher confidence seems to be the growth rate of the national economy and probably the related openness of younger, more globally aware populations to progress and innovation, paraphrasing the study's authors. By contrast, countries where several generations have become accustomed to innovation and have perhaps slowed their pace of uptake, or simply have a more educated filter for measuring progress vs. payoff, ranked lower.

Measuring innovation confidence is a delicate and difficult operations. The IIIP has approached it thus far by asking a few simple questions. Hopefully they or another group will take this line of inquiry deeper to get to the cultural triggers that determine receptivity. One trigger has to be experience with innovation and confidence that investing financially and emotionally in the "new" is worth the time and effort. British consumers have discovered this not to be the case by and large over the past few decades, and therefore they have little confidence when invited to embrace it again. Japan and Korea have entrenched cultures of quality and trust which support their consumers' decisions. It will be interesting to see if, after 10 or 20 years of experience, Chinese or Indian consumers maintain their levels of confidence in innovations.