By Daniel Hunter
Europe’s educational systems combined with a rigid determination to stick with traditional organisational hierarchies is denting employees’ ability and willingness to innovate.
According to data from KPMG’s 2012 Tech Innovation Survey, 58 percent of respondents across Europe claim the way pupils are educated stifles innovation in later years. In contrast, three-quarters of those questioned in China (74 percent) argue that the educational system in their country ‘is an incubator for innovative thinkers’.
“So much lip service is paid to the importance of innovation, but the ability to create ‘something new’ often proves elusive simply because there is too great a focus on putting processes in place to allow innovative thinking to happen," Anna Marie Detert, a director in KPMG’s People and Change Advisory team, said.
"It’s a paradox which must be addressed as it is collective problem-solving, rather than individual process compliance, that really counts with innovation. Ultimately it’s the calibre of the people, the alliances they build, space for their thinking time and the culture in which they operate which are the key ingredients to foster fresh ideas.”
In a sign that many organisations across Europe are stifling innovative thinking, respondents believe that C-suite executives dominate the ‘innovation agenda’. According to the research 1 in 3 respondents claim their CEO has responsibility to drive innovation but just 8 percent of organisations across Europe ‘spot or nurture innovation from the bottom up’. A similarly low proportion encourages innovative thinking amongst teams at business unit level (9 percent).
There are, at least, signs that organisations are trying to change the current approach to product and idea development. KPMG’s data suggests that 18 percent believe the offer of career progression or promotion is enough to encourage junior or mid-level staff to share their ideas and 16 percent suggest that ‘internal acknowledgement’ or peer recognition will drive creative thinking. Unsurprisingly, and unlikely in the current economic climate, is the idea voiced by 46 percent of respondents that financial incentives will help change the status quo.
“The educational system in Europe is more established than elsewhere and this backdrop of centuries of high standard setting is often used as an excuse for not allowing alternative views to be expressed in the classroom," Detert said.
"It’s a situation which means today’s pupils — who are tomorrow’s innovators — are less inclined to stand up and share their ideas out of a fear of being labelled as disruptive or non-conformist. They may be inclined to move to other geographies where their ideas can be heard and implemented.
“There also seems to be an innate belief within organisations that innovation equals technology. But the idea that technology is the innovation silver bullet is misguided and outmoded. It may be true in that technology fosters communication, but the critical element lies in network-based collaboration. What matters is not the method of communicating an idea, but the ideas themselves and the comfort employees have in sharing them.”
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