It Takes Two. Or Three, or Four…

March 2, 2015

If we did all of the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.
-Thomas Edison

Innovation is a complex game. Many inventions are only great if they come at the right time, are executed by the right people, and perhaps get wind in their sails from the right type of economy. A recent Harvard Business Review article on why German companies are so innovative tells only part of the story.

First, Germany makes things, just as we do in the United States, but Germany has an even greater focus on manufacturing. This is critical if you are going to apply technologies to the marketplace. The act of making a product simply puts innovation closer the things that customers use. Manufacturing is inherently innovative — requiring science, technology, skill, and trial and error.

Second, half of Germany’s economy is reliant on exporting. It is a fact that the more you export, the more you innovate. You have to constantly adapt your product or service to new markets and customers, who help provide feedback and require customization.

Third, innovations can only be applied if there is a marketplace in which to connect them to the world. I would argue that without the unrelenting innovation of the American capitalist system, there would be less motivation to innovate and little capital for the research, development and application of new technologies. Without venture capital, few technologies take flight.

Finally, while technical institutes like Fraunhofer (see their 11 basic principles here) and EWI (our own successful version of this model founded right here in Columbus) are wildly impressive, they first require basic research. That research is often conducted at American research universities, such as The Ohio State University, and by government sponsored research at the NSF or private organizations such as Battelle. Without this basic research there would be no Internet, and far fewer medical and industrial breakthroughs that have led millions out of poverty and to a better, more productive life.

We can learn from Germany’s model, and we can accelerate our own cycles of innovation, but none of us can do it alone.

Kenny McDonald

One Columbus Update

  • Our team continues to travel to the world to uncover opportunities for the Columbus Region. We just returned from a business development mission in the U.K., and we’re now in Japan on a business development mission with partners from the City of Dublin.
  • Mark your calendars for the first annual Trust Belt Conference, which will be held in Columbus May 31-June 3. Over three days, governors, mayors, university presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs who are leading Midwest communities and companies will come together to tell their story of economic transformation.