Over the past 50 years, the nature of innovation has changed significantly. In the 1970s innovation was primarily the domain of large companies – and it was often undirected. Unbelievable as it seems, I can recall a time when large companies simply asked research and development (R&D) staff to work on whatever interested them, in the hope that something commercial came from their work.
All of this is unthinkable today. The ceaseless pressure on margins in business – combined with the disruptive power of digital – has changed innovation forever. I reckon I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of companies that have the capability to support undirected innovation.
While Google famously encourages its employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects that would be most beneficial to the company, it still publishes a set of factors that drive how innovation works internally.
The reality is that as much important innovation now comes from start-ups as from large, established companies with huge R&D departments. Often smaller companies have the benefit of being agile: able to collaborate more efficiently; deploy more effective technologies and roll out solutions quickly. For larger companies, the struggle to focus innovation in this environment is very real. R&D cannot be siloed when competitive pressures are constantly increasing.
The challenges faced by innovators in large and small companies is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about recently. Many of our customers are large corporates and law firms. But as the innovation landscape changes, we want to be able to support all innovation, wherever it comes from. Thanks to the Internet, collaboration has never been simpler. This drives new methods of ideas generation, bringing together world class leaders in diverse fields to address complex problems with powerful new technology tools.
One of the drivers behind our product IdeaScout was to help facilitate faster innovation. The software is designed to speed up the pace of turning ideas into intellectual property and help innovators quickly understand the IP landscape around any specific idea. The software enables companies to track who is working on what and facilitates collaboration between inventors. Ideas can be quickly analysed for relevant patents, helping companies and individuals prioritise innovation.
There is still a lot more we want to do. Collaboration, within a company or with individual innovators around the globe, will drive the next generation of ideas. It will need to. Many of the most critical issues that the world faces – such as climate change, sustainable supplies of drinking water, addressing an ageing population - are global. They also need to be addressed quickly.
These highly complex issues will require the best minds working together to deliver a timely and effective solution. Enabling this collaboration is something I am determined we will play an important part in.
Simon Webster is CEO, CPA Global