Is innovation a national trait? I don’t think so.
Future Brief is a personal weblog. Anyone is welcome to read it, but “traffic” is of absolutely no importance to me. It is where I post primarily short essays (by my standards, at least) on topics I am researching related to the future, but nothing exhaustive. Some have been and will be too long to be called “brief” by many folks, but they will also be far less than complete in detail. That will come later, if I decide to offer an article for publication on that topic. Today is another example. This will be brief, so please accept it as such should you wander in to read, and my apologies if you expected more detail. That will come, if and when I want to take it further.
Back in 2005, Charles Gave, Anatole Kaletsky, and Louis-Vincent Gave of the global investment firm, GaveKal, privately published a short book titled, Our Brave New World, now out of publication. Among a number of points, one that grabbed my attention was their suggestion that in the future, the US would serve as the center for innovation in the design, marketing, and sales of new products and services, while the “emerging markets” like China would be responsible for production. The Americans would do the intellectual work and the Chinese would do the “grunt” work. This was to be a win-win situation as the Americans would profit from what they did best (innovate, market, sell) and the Chinese would profit from what they did best (provide huge numbers of low-paid workers). And, as you will hear if you listen to the video to come, they were not the only ones to think along these lines. That is very definitely an over-simplification of the book, but a reasonable and quick explanation of one of its major points. I thought they did a decent job of making their argument and filed it away in the back of my head for future reference.
Some weeks later, I read brief comments by Marc Faber, a very well-known commentator on all things Asian, on Our Brave New World. Dr. Faber is, if nothing else, very blunt when he feels it’s appropriate and that is how he felt in this case. I do not have his actual wording now, but it boiled down to this. What do these people think? Do they think the “Chinese brain” is somehow different than the “American brain”? Why shouldn’t the Chinese be just as innovative as the Americans? If Americans can plan marketing campaigns for China (as they were doing at the time), why can’t the Chinese do an even better job of that, plus design marketing campaigns for the US? In essence, any division of labor similar to what GaveKal had described would only be temporary. If Americans thought otherwise, they were in for a very big surprise.
The moment I read Faber’s comments, I realized he was absolutely correct and I was very upset, but not with him. I was upset with myself! After many years of working globally, I should have seen this fundamental flaw immediately, but I was mentally lazy that day when I read Our Brave New World and just let it slide past me.
A few weeks ago, I posted here an essay, A Parable for Today, one of my longer posts. I discussed the changing attitudes of professionals in the so-called “developing nations” toward those in the so-called “developed nations” (you know them, the ones with the big debts). Although not specific to the GaveKal or Faber arguments, it reflects much of the same sentiments in a different form, seven years later. Yet it falls short of addressing a key element of the original GaveKal presentation, in my mind – innovation.
I have found a video that I think helps address this issue of whether Asians can be as innovative as North Americans or Europeans on the basis of research. Dr. Nirmalya Kumar is a professor of Marketing at the London Business School and this is the topic he addresses. Although it is based on research in and about India, it is not culture-bound. The same can be said of other nations, and probably many more to come. And so I will finish by turning this essay over to Dr. Kumar as he discusses “India’s Invisible Innovation”.