Creating South Africa’s competitive edge

Our architects, in collaboration with international firms, designed the calabash stadium and our artists got on a world stage right next to the Black Eyed Peas and Shakira.

Our continent is becoming a significant world market yet we struggle to use the knowledge economy to its full potential. The internet has brought all other markets closer. But we are still uncomfortable with the "idea to market" process, namely innovation. We are better at coming up with new ideas and researching them, but are really bad at taking them to market. Why are we reluctant to go big in the world market?

I believe it is systemic; it has to do with the innovation system in the country and how businesses, government and academics lead innovation. We do not invest enough in education, which is a systemic flaw. We fund only new products and research, another systemic flaw. We do not fund collaboration or networks. We are good with ownership but bad with access to networks, markets, partnerships. We are more worried about owning knowledge than exploiting knowledge. We are bad marketers. Forgive me if this does not apply to you, I am generalising based on trends that I have been watching.

Yet, systems do not innovate, people do. The rectifier is leadership. As CEOs, champions of causes, political leaders and thought leaders we can step up the game. Start by having a dream, not a plan. Then let your people co-create the dream with you. Let them have a landing place for new ideas, incentivise their initiative, support the front end  of innovation with resources, but always reward the impact, not the idea. It's simple. Just do it.

From a leadership perspective we do not have one big goal in innovation that all South Africans can relate to, something that unites us, makes us proud and makes us feel "we did it ourselves" . What goals can we set for ourselves that can stretch us further than anything before?

What about this (my personal list):

  • By 2015 we must have safe cities where we can work, play and live. Any creative effort that will make this a reality should be allowed in the same way we did with the world cup.
  • By 2020 all children must have easy access to world-class education for free anywhere in the country.
  • By 2015 all roads in South Africa should be pothole free
  • By 2015 all government services should be accessible via internet with a 24×7 turnaround time and service delivery level of zero defect?
  • By 2015 there should be bicycle and pedestrian paths next to all suburban roads (a pet subject for me)
  • By 2015… I don't know… you are the leader of innovation, what is your vision? There are loads of people who want to help.

Participate in the crowd-sourcing initiative, Leaders of Innovation, send us your quote on Innovation or your vision for Innovation. We will reference you and display it at the Innovation summit. [email protected] Follow audrey @Audreyverhaeghe or the @SA_Summit.

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