Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.
Peter Drucker, economist and essayist
The present is already old. The time has come to move towards tomorrow. The words of innovation leave the station of prejudices, experience, and arrogance of success already acquired by following the rule of “doing everything at home” and get on the train of open-mindedness, epiphany, and passion. Surrounded by an atmosphere of uncertainty, innovation is learned by practicing the game of imagination and possibility at school.
We enter the theatre where Innovation is represented. Among the words of the characters put in the mouth of the actors, stand out those expressed by the voices of the protagonists, mainly the Curiosity that leads viewers on new roads. Let us listen to them.
“Words are ideas”, wrote Ernst Schumacher, German statistician and economist, in the 1973 essay that made him famous, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mattered. Words are ideas that allow you to converse and discover new things. In “The Characters”, writing about society and the art of conversation, Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), teacher and royal tutor, stated that “The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his wit is also greatly pleased with you.”
In the representation of Innovation, two contrasting personalities clash. Status quo is the hedgehog who cries out loud and protects itself from the attack of innovation by a thick layer of quills on its back. The fox, on the other hand, catches the voices of innovation so well that it recognizes many words of it. The volume of its voice rises when it pronounces “void” and “irrationality”.
Words “run”, wrote The Doors’ poet and singer-songwriter Jim Morrison (1943-1971). But is it enough to always run panting a little, like Alice in Wonderland? Or should we rather rely on the words of the Queen, “A slow sort of country! Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can manage just to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” There is, however, a third solution: to hasten slowly.
The words of innovation run through the collaborative space of the web where, as its creator Tim Berners-Lee noted, everyone can communicate through the exchange and sharing of information. The economy of sharing has set in motion a process of democratization of consumption and production. An increasing number of consumers share goods and services with other members of their community.
Innovation is knowledge in action. Cultural changes and new technological inventions mean that knowledge is something that anyone can acquire. As Theodore Zeldin writes in An Intimate History of Humanity (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), “for a long time knowledge was considered something rare and secret and this esoteric inheritance, with its pretense of superiority and mystery, lives on in the jargon with which all professions tend to protect themselves”.
In his opening address at the World Economic Forum in 2012 in Davos, the Forum’s founder Klaus Schwab said: “….capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production. If talent is becoming the decisive competitive factor, we can be confident in stating that capitalism is being replaced by ‘talentism.’ Just as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization, capital is now giving way to human talent”.
Should universities act as intellectual filters, screening out the best brains, and as a flywheel of investment in human capital to generate innovative competences motivated by entrepreneurship, or, first and foremost, as bureaucratic machinery for the manufacture of degrees and credentials? The international circulation of brains and the hunt for talent taking place in the most advanced economies and emerging nations tip the balance in favour of the first option.