Andrew Kakabadse

Ask what innovation means and you will get a broad cross-section of responses.  Some interpret innovation as invention.  This was the case at a recent high profile European Commission meeting in Brussels.  One of the notables, visibly irritated with the thinking of his colleagues pointedly remarked, “Each week my department gets nothing but bright ideas and inventions, which go no-where!.  What we need is to get ideas to market.  We need structures that engage.  Let’s not mix invention with innovation!

All knew he was right.  Equally all recognised the political message in his few words.  European public services are highly politicised.  An innovation policy initiative from the European Commission, making its way through the step by step, tiresome European consultation process could find itself derailed at the final hurdle because some local interest group, or politician, has leverage with country governments or Brussels.  In effect, reform is brought to a halt simply because of some partisan interest.

Not that the Europeans are that much different to the Americans or Australians.  Innovation that would have benefitted the majority is marginalised simply because single political interests dominate big administrations.

So aligning big capital with efficient big government requires clear lines of delineation between the layers of government.  This is one form of innovation.

A second and more profound level of innovation is that of how ideas are shaped and become the emergent policy of countries or even whole regions.

Globally, there is a seeming acceptance that the citizen is best served by policies anchored in the free market philosophy.  Why such adherence to shareholder capitalism from both the right and left wing of the political landscape, especially from the Anglo American economies?  One reason is the subtle shaping of mindset occurring ‘behind the scenes’ by global networks, such as the most prominent of all, the Bilderbergs.  Recent study of this trans-Atlantic gathering of business and political grandees, highlights the free market thinking that ouses from the Bilderberg meetings.

Yet rather than religiously pounding this one philosophy, the Bilderberger study interviewees referred to the understanding that arises from attracting a divergence of views.  True, the investigation shows that the demographics of the attendees is broad.  But the question to ask is whether their ontology is comparable and deeply shared?  The evidence suggests it is, of course, in favour of shareholder market economics.

The shaping of mindsets particularly in favour of the free market economy is subtle in its creep.  It has many of the world’s leaders blind to the advantage of socialised capital, the predominant philosophy driving Germany, Scandinavia and China.

Thus, innovation on a global basis is at the crossroad – do we pursue short term, transactional shareholder capitalism or longer term, socialised capital for the purposes of the public good?  The fact that we do not openly and enthusiastically debate this issue is testament to the smart power influence of networks as the Bilderbergs.

In the short term there is likely to be no fundamental shift in the repositioning of capital.  On this basis there is equally likely no change in the structure and functioning of government.  The major governments of the globe operate exactly as the opaque vested interests desire.

No innovation in terms of policy design means we are left with innovation meaning invention.  With innovation at the global crossroad, we can expect a future of many bright ideas but with very few actually reaching the citizen.

Andrew Kakabadse is a consultant and professor of international management development at the Cranfield University School of Management.