Give Man Fish…

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.

Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for his whole life.

If that man innovates fishing methods, he’ll catch more fish than he needs, thus being able to sell the surplus fish, the technology, or both.

In other words, innovation will give the man disposable income.

I attended the Dublin Investment Summit on Friday 30th September 2011. CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors and investors were present to discuss business topics relevant to today’s economy. There were also pitches from companies that were looking for investment (including some very exciting nanotechnology from Vasorum and Alta Science.

The overriding message from both the summit and from my recently completed MBA is that innovation is king in today’s world. Hypercompetition is where companies and firms try to both increase their own competitive advantage and erode the competition’s advantage. This erosion is only avoidable through either patents or constant innovation in the marketplace. This continuing innovation keeps changing the goalposts so that the competition cannot keep up.

Patents give legal protection in their jurisdictions, but cannot offer protection against underlying ideas. In fact, one company present at the Dublin Investment Summit, SolarPrint has not patented its technology, claiming that the ideas are too valuable to be released into the public domain. A founder, Dr. Mazhar Bari, explained that keeping the technology secret would hinder the competition more than having a patent.

This could become a growing trend in the marketplace, as companies (especially startups) work to retain their competitive advantage. However, I do not think that it is a sustainable model. Loose lips or a defection from within that company could lead to the underlying idea leaking to the public domain. Keeping something secret is a very shaky premise for a business model. Furthermore, the technology could be impinging on another patent. This is what patent examiners and search firms do: they find out if an idea is either patentable or infringing.

Enter constant innovation!

At the summit, there was a copy of Innovation Demystified by Richard Lawler to be given away. This book is a compilation of simple techniques designed to unlock one’s creativity. I have not yet read this book, but a glance through it spoke to me on a creative level. It’s the whole “walk away from the crossword for a while, and the answers become obvious” idea.

Personally, I use juggling, painting and lock picking as ways to take my mind off issues at hand. However, I think that I will purchase this book for it’s desk-ercises as well its simple mind distraction techniques.

But it does show that everyone can be creative if they put some time into it. This innovation is key in today’s business marketplace, and having some staff doing full-time innovation work on products, marketing, strategy and even the company’s business plan is essential.

In times of hypercompetition, innovation is the means to survival.

– Jamie O’Connell, FT MBA Class of 2011