THE BLOG

What If Bill Gates Was Chinese?

25/03/2013 18:08 GMT | Updated 24/05/2013 10:12 BST

With a hop, skip and a flight I am transported from the crazy world of Advertising Week in London to the surprisingly calm towers of NYC.

I'm talking Innovation with Corporate Big Shots and it's proving to be most revealing.

The general consensus seems to be that whilst they nod sagely at its importance, most CEO's hold two specific strands within their DNA that reject Innovation as way too fluffy to affect the balance sheet.

The first is that many of them are accountants by training ("where's the payback"?). And the second is they're lucky if they're tenure lasts 24 months, precious little time to even pimp up the P&L and get lauded by the shareholders, let alone anything else; ("No time/money/staff to commit to something my successor will benefit from").

I précis and exaggerate (a little) to make the point.

I take them through a sobering thought I had a few years ago. What if Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Andy Grove, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg (you get the idea) had been Chinese?

The USA at the end of the 1970's was not in great shape economically. High interest rates, high unemployment and a recession.

You could see it most vividly on the journey from LAX to the safety of the Loews Hotel on Ocean Boulevard. The streets were dirty, homelessness was everywhere, buildings were in disrepair, and lo-value goods were advertised on broken billboards. It resembled a 2nd World country.

I mean no disrespect. But that's what California was like then. Silicon Valley? What? It was still a couple of years away.

Then the innovators innovated. First Grove, Gates and Jobs and then the rest.

As facilitators of economic growth, processors, computers and the Internet have fuelled the USA.

The US dominated the Space Race and currently dominates the Cyberspace Race.

Wow! Phew!

That's what Innovation did for the USA. It's to be taken seriously.

But getting boardrooms to take Innovation seriously isn't helped by a growing, haphazard pseudo-industry of Innovation wannabees who come at it from a range of different skill sets and philosophies.

Let me be clear. Creativity is thinking up new things. Experimentation is trying-out new things. But Innovation is DOING new things. And how many innovation consultants can walk the talk themselves?

If businesses are to be served by an Innovation Service Industry, then let it be served properly.

Innovation plays its biggest part at the birth of a company and then at the birth of large scale, influential capital expenditure. It comes BEFORE Marketing. It is not a "marketing service". It is a substantial and strategic intervention that ensures a company has a product or service that is so differentiated, inspiring, exciting and desirable that customers all over the world ardently want it.

It is the one thing that companies can do that can perpetuate the growth of western economies and keep them competitive amongst a league of super nations that are increasingly Asian.

So, lets stop worrying about how much bigger China is and start focusing on how much better we can be.

And note that it was innovation that kept the USA ahead at just the right time in its history.