The term “innovation” is everywhere.
From corporate annual reports to TV commercials, from class rooms to offices, from board meetings to cabinet meetings, “innovation” has taken the top spot in the agenda.
Innovation is considered to be the key driver of growth and beating competition. Though the idea of innovation has drawn eclectic attention in recent decades, especially after the stormy advent of the internet and its widespread applications, it has been a vital part of economics for almost a century.
In 1934, Austrian-born Harvard professor and one of the most influential political economists of the 20th century, Joseph Schumpeter, published a book titled Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.
In this seminal book, he introduced the term “creative destruction” to explain the innovative entrepreneurs who work as the driving force of economic growth. The source of this creative destruction is innovation.
Creative destruction is meant to destroy old sources of competitive advantages by replacing them with the new ones. Because of the power of innovation to keep monopolists and oligopolists disciplined and competitive, Schumpeter held that innovation is the underlying reason for capitalism being the best economic system of our time.
In recent years, the idea of innovation has efficaciously created a ripple in both political and corporate arenas in Bangladesh.
The government has been working to promote national innovation; private organisations have been working to bring innovation into every economic sector and in major parts of the country, and clearly these initiatives are encouraging signs of our advancement toward a progressive nation.
In promoting innovation, however, everyone is primarily focusing on IT-based innovation which is, of course, understandable. In fact, if we notice the Western world, it turns out that almost all the innovations taking place every day are mostly technological in nature. However, we shouldn’t forget that we live in a different world.
A different milieu
Our context is not similar to that of most Western countries. When a small part of our population is looking forward, a greater portion is happily funneling backward to extremism. This is the biggest failure of our education system and, of course, of our leadership.
No one can refute that we have many basic problems to solve before we can stand tall in the map of civilisation. Paradoxically, this is why I believe Bangladesh is a fertile land for innovation. Spotting a problem at the right time is half the innovation, and we have many -- in social, political, private, and public spheres.
But are we ready to recognise them? We encounter problems almost every moment, yet we ignore them totally and look into Silicon Valley apps to ease ourselves. Let’s talk about some of our foremost national problems and what we are doing about it.
No one can refute that we have many basic problems to solve before we can stand tall in the map of civilisation. Paradoxically, this is why I believe Bangladesh is a fertile land for innovation
To start, let’s talk about our education. Ridiculous syllabuses, corrupt teachers, archaic teaching methods, continuous question paper leaks, and whatnot. What are we doing to solve, at least, some of these problems?
So many possibilities
If you talk about innovation, our education system is ripe for it. We need radical innovation here. Let’s find one innovative idea that will prevent question paper leakage in public exams before investing millions to some other apps that only few will eventually use.
What about corruption in the public sector? Can we find an innovative idea that will bring transparency in every transaction made in every public office? After all, the money the public sector spends is public money, and the public has every right to see where our money is used and why.
All the technologies (eg, blockchain) are there; we just need to come up with the right ideas to use them in the right place. It would surely be a great innovation if we could see in real-time what our government is doing with our money.
Are we working to bring innovation to our transport system? On the roads, millions of working hours are being wasted, thousands of lives are lost every year. Are we working to bring innovation here? Are we thinking of any alternative transport system?
Millions of files are rotting in our court rooms. Millions of people are crying for justice. Is there any innovation that can solve this problem in our judiciary system? Is it that difficult to come up with one?
Can we bring some innovation in our major export sector, ready-made garments (RMG) industry, to climb up the global fashion value chain? That said, can we come up with ideas that will prevent another Rana Plaza incident?
First, think about home
Before going after Silicon Valley-type innovations, we should think of these fundamental areas of our economy where simple innovation can have big impact and can affect so many lives. The success of an innovation depends not on how novel and great it is, but on how much impact it creates on the overall socio-economic milieu by solving a long-standing problem.
Successful innovation destroys the archaic system (thus termed as creative destruction) for a new, better, and creative one. A fine app is not an innovation if it fails to affect a large group of populations positively. Our government is moving forward (almost) in the right direction toward its mission of Digital Bangladesh. Many things have changed positively so far. No doubt.
However, mistakes are made mostly when everything seems favourable, simple, and going well. We need innovation in every area to keep moving toward building a developed nation. But, we shouldn’t be tricked by the illusion of the idea of innovation per se. We must focus on the real impact of an innovation, and how it solves our very fundamental problems first.
SM Musa is doing research on Strategy and Innovation. He writes from the Netherlands and can be reached at [email protected]