Is there a British style of innovation?03 Dec 2013
Britain has a long tradition of pioneering discoveries and world changing ideas – from the telephone to the World Wide Web – but is there a British style of innovation?
Recently asked that very question in an interview with the National Business Awards, ARM Holdings’ CEO Warren East said that British innovation was characterised by ‘elegant’ problem solving. But who is defining the problem, and how ambitious is British innovation?
A theme that runs through many of this year’s awards is how innovation has been driven by the customer. This was clearly demonstrated by finalists of the Orange Innovation Award according to one of this year’s judges. “The best examples started with basic questions around customer needs and a genuine desire to better serve those needs and then went on to design new solutions from scratch, overcoming challenges along the way,” observes Gideon Hyde, MD of Market Gravity, who noted an “entrepreneurial zeal” to get new propositions into the market.
Recognised for its customer-centric approach, food technology innovator apetito won the Customer Focus Award in 2010. In 2012, it has been once again shortlisted for an Orange Innovation Award for continuously innovating to improve customer experience while delivering strong business benefits.
But what about the disruptors that see conventional models as a problem to be solved? Fellow finalist Duedil has set out its aim to revolutionise the information available about private businesses by not only providing free access to company accounts but enabling people to better understand their competitors, suppliers and customers - by aggregating data about them from multiple sources.
Then there are those seeking to transform attitudes and perceptions to business in general. CSR consultancy Collins McHugh is helping organisations to understand the bottom line benefit of a well implemented Corporate Social Responsibility programme – whether it’s cost savings from carbon management, increased success with tenders or more engaged staff.
There have been numerous examples of organisations and individuals giving back through innovation. Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland – one of five Orange Leader of the Year finalists - has championed the British Innovation Gateway (BIG) programme to enable UK growth through technology entrepreneurship. EA Technology, a finalist for Croner Employer of the Year, created the Energy Innovation Centre to enable improvement in its industry, while Imparta, a finalist for Business Enabler of the Year, hopes to transform the perception of training and its impact through thought-leadership.
Whether or not this is a peculiarly British approach to innovation is debatable – and it may not benefit Britain to differentiate its approach to invention. John McDonnell, MD of wireless street lighting firm Harvard Engineering – which won the Orange Innovation Award in 2011 and is shortlisted for 3i International Growth Business of the Year in 2012 – believes that British business should adopt a more global perspective on innovation - combining its elegance in problem solving with an understanding of what international customers want and what the world needs.
“It was uplifting to see innovation being applied to the social responsibility agenda in such an enlightened and action orientated way, and driving through to commercial results,” concludes Gideon Hyde.