A More Innovative Europe? Think Different About Innovation!

In Brussels, the Research & Innovation Program Horizon Europe (FP9) is the talk of ‘EU town’. Horizon Europe is hoped to be the great leap forward of Europe to close the innovation gap to the US and stay ahead of the emerging innovation giant China in the coming years.

And the EU Commission puts its money where its mouth is: It recently has published its first proposal for Horizon Europe, presenting an ambitious €100 billion research and innovation program that will succeed Horizon 2020.

Will Horizon Europe achieve its lofty vision and praiseworthy goals? Browsing draft publications and talking to innovation practitioners and executives I remain skeptical. Horizon Europe certainly will underpin and solidify Europe’s world class position in research in many areas. Sure, Europe today delivers remarkable innovations to the world. But becoming a world leader in innovation by 2027?

Three paradigms are getting in the way of delivering more innovation in Europe:

1: Confusing Innovation with Invention

The simultaneous and often synonymous use of those two terms is and continues to be a source of confusion and misunderstandings. There is a very clear distinction between invention and innovation: Inventions turn money into knowledge; innovations turn knowledge into money.

Thus, the innovation process is completely different from the research process. Also, most researchers are not innovators and most innovators are not researchers. Innovation begins where and when research tails off, sometimes even ‘dusting off’ research results and inventions from the past.

2: Undervaluing the Impact of Business Models on Innovation

Everybody will agree that research and inventions, i.e. new knowledge, can be an important source of innovation. But not every innovation requires an invention (example: Apple’s iPod/iTunes) and not all inventions will turn into innovations. Most patents never result in new products. And many business model innovations did not any invention in the classical sense. But they are innovations nevertheless, creating value for their stakeholders and society.

This bias is a consequence of mingling invention with innovation aspects and the traditional dominance of the innovation programs by R&D. But innovation is not the exclusive domain of R&D—innovation is a team sport! More business people, notably from marketing and finance, need to step up to innovating business processes and models.

3: Focusing Innovation on Problem Solving instead of Value Creation

Innovation is all about value creation. Creating an innovative way to treat a serious illness clearly solves an important problem and creates value, too. But Amazon recently became a trillion US$ company without solving a retail problem the consumer could not have solved before. By facilitating and expanding shopping from home on the ubiquitous platform of the internet, Amazon ‘just’ reorganized retail in a way preferred by its customers over traditional shopping processes.

To move the focus from problem solving to value creation we need to think about problems differently. We need to perceive them as opportunities to create new value and talk about them in this manner.

One more aspect to take care of to drive innovation in Europe: Expanding promising innovations across several European markets fast to reach critical scale. Europe’s blessing and curse is its diversity and the related complexity. Just think of how hard and expensive it is to get good patent or design protection across several European markets, in particular if you’re a start-up or an SME. But those are the companies from which most significant innovations originate.

If we want more innovation in Europe than we get today, we need to ‘think different’ about innovation. Let’s innovate how we innovate!

By Joachim von Heimburg, Innovation Architect and Executive Advisor

About the author

Dr. Joachim von Heimburg is an independent Innovation Architect and Executive Advisor helping companies to improve their innovation processes and create sustainable business value by innovation. He is the founder of the Open Innovation Alliance (OPINA), an alliance of European Multinationals dedicated to developing their innovation capabilities and competencies. He is a Certified Innovation Management System Professional (PDMA), and Vice-President of the Board of the Chemistry & Industry Section of the German Chemical Society (GDCh). More on his website: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jvhinnovation/

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