What's wrong with this picture?
According to the Global Innovation Index (GII) - co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) - the most innovative countries in the world are:
3. United Kingdom
5. United States of America
7. Hong Kong (China)
Other than chocolate, watches, and secret bank accounts, I've never viewed Swiss innovation as leading the world. The same goes for Sweden (IKEA, Abba?) and the Netherlands (Shell).
Why are these countries being hyped as the most innovative countries in the world?
Let's dig a little deeper. Firstly, the index tracks the wrong measures of innovation:
Swiss "innovation" looks like this:
The USA looks like this:
So, let's look at three other "not-so innovative" countries: Brazil, China, and India - yes, they are "emerging markets"...
See the problem? Innovation cannot be measured by number of entries to Wikipedia, or number of papers, or patents, or YouTube uploads.
Rather, it should be measured in terms of innovation (and disruption) - by industry.
Brazil, is the first country where renewable energy accounts for more than 85.4% of the domestically produced electricity used. If that's not innovative, I'll go re-read Heidi.
China? Well, they're China. Every product the Swiss used to make is now made cheaper and of comparable quality in China. Red capitalism rules the business world right now, so that's something of a disruptive innovation, don't you agree?
And India? They've got more scientists and engineers who are hungry to make something happen. India's also the hot-bed for reverse innovation (which does not seem to be on the radar at the WIPO). And they just sent a mission to Mars...
So what's wrong with this innovation survey?
Simply put, it's not based on reality. And it's not an accident that Switzerland is "so innovative," according to this survey - which happens to be sponsored by INSEAD (in Lausanne) and the WIPO (Geneva). The innovation for Switzerland is its opaque banking system (ask China about that: Chinese government officials hold about 5,000 personal Swiss bank accounts with the Swiss global financial services company UBS. Two thirds of those accounts belong to high level central government officials.)
... Wait. There is one true innovation from Switzerland that does deserve a mention: the cap on CEO pay. Let's see if it flies.
Companies and countries that are serious about innovation would do well to not pay attention to this survey, and focus instead on their schools, quality of science education, business transparency, social mobility, gini coefficients, and of course, governance itself (the Corruption Index). See also the Big Shift and A New Culture of Learning.
And if you want to measure creativity, that's going to be something else entirely.