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Asia and the Elements of Innovation

Asia and the Elements of Innovation

In a recent McKinsey & Co article by Eric Drexler titled “Asia and the elements of innovation”; the author talks of how innovation in Asia is charting a different trajectory from that of the developed world. The center of innovation is inexorably shifting to China. When the reasons for this are fully understood, why are the developed countries letting this happen?

Asia has strong characteristics of a region that has the capacity to lead in technological innovation. This capacity stems from culture, civilization and the changes successive generations have seen. In this article, the author discusses technological innovation in Asia. This form of innovation drives innovations in law, capital and business culture therefore technological innovation can be taken as a representative of other kinds of innovation as well.

To be world class centers of innovation, societies must have the drive to innovate, they must have human resource that is capable of innovation and a capacity to mobilize resources. These are fundamental characteristics of an innovative society.

In many Asian cultures people have gone from villages to skyscrapers in a single generation. Having seen massive change, such people are not afraid to dream and are willing to risk more. As against this, the leaders of more stable countries as in Japan and in the developed world have been stable and prosperous throughout their adult lives. In such countries prosperity is often accepted as a way of life.

There are also very great cultural differences in attitudes to education. Standards of math and science for college entrance exams are much higher in India than in the US. Similarly in China, top students have a status similar to that of athletes in the US. Children in these countries covet autographs of scientists and not of entertainers.

While many say that Asian education depends on rote memory, this has been recognized in Asia as well and change is underway. Much has changed and many colleges in the US are filled with Asians – both professors and students. In fact, the best minds of China are often to be found in US and Europe and their innovations add to the tally of their host country. A reverse movement is already visible and Chinese increases in spending on R&D average 20% which is five times that of the US.

Innovation needs support from the government, corporations and individuals. China has been outstanding in this whereas India has been a slow starter. Chinese government policy has been transformed and a hyper entrepreneurial culture has been unleashed.

The background of legislators in different countries makes for an interesting comparison. Among US senators, a background of science and engineering is rare whereas it is the norm for Chinese lawmakers. Leaders must have a good grasp of these subjects if they are to lead their countries effectively.

A very visible result of the shift in centers of innovation is seen from the location of corporate research laboratories. Multinational firms of all types have set up research centers in China and more continue to do so. The center of innovation is shifting to Asia and a strong global integration is only going to make the transition smoother and broadly beneficial.

Note: The preceding is a summary of an article found though our research, and is provided here with editorial comment for members only. Please see the full article at the following link for full original content. http://whatmatters.mckinseydigital.com

The New Asia Innovation Team

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