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The UK is in a good place to capitalise on innovation – it cannot afford not to


The innovation economy: it’s the Holy Grail every country appears to be chasing. From Malaysian prime minister Najib Tun Razak saying growth will come from innovation and creativity in his new economic model, to US president Barack Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, designed to deliver a sustained approach to ensuring that country’s future prosperity, innovation is the ambition of pretty much any global leader.

It's not surprising. Economic growth and international competitiveness depend on the capacity to innovate. The White House declares: "To win the future, we must out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world."

In the UK there have been moves to create an innovation framework of sorts, from the publication of the Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth a year ago to investment to fund a world-class research hub to capitalise on 'miracle material' graphene. But, according to Nesta, the UK has experienced a "lost decade" of innovation with investment by UK business falling by £24 billion since the recession began. Geoff Mulgan, Nesta's CEO, says: "Other countries are making investment in innovation a top priority and the UK cannot afford not to do the same."

He adds this is a "potentially disastrous decision that needs to be put right". I agree and I like Nesta's call for a Plan I - innovation-led growth as an alternative to the Government's Plan A and Plan A+.

The UK is in a good place to capitalise on innovation. Firstly, an innovation economy needs political and economic freedom, something not all the fastest- growing economies possess. The UK has world-leading universities and a flexible workforce. It also has clusters of innovation ecosystems, such as Silicon Fen, Tech City and Manchester - necessary for the type of collaboration and competition that spawns innovation.

But, of course, it falls to business to drive innovation and this is where HR comes in. As Wharton School professor George Day says: "The most important ingredient for innovation is a supportive culture. And that's an HR challenge."

Removing silos, cross-department collaboration, a culture in which you can take risks and fail - these are necessary to nurture innovation. And today no business can afford to ignore this.