During a TED talk many years ago, founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, said: “Because, you know, resilience, if you think of it in terms of the Gold Rush, then you’d be pretty depressed right now because the last nugget of gold would be gone. But the good thing is, with innovation, there isn’t a last nugget. Every new thing creates two new questions and two new opportunities.”

There are several benefits for an organisation implementing innovative management techniques and processes, and for this reason GE has been at the forefront of measuring innovative practices. First published in 2010, the GE Global Innovation Barometer (GIB) explores emerging innovation trends and how business leaders perceive the barriers to and opportunities for innovation in a complex, global environment.

Now in its sixth edition, the 2018 GE GIB surveyed more than 2,000 business executives from 20 countries and was carried out by Edelman Intelligence. Titled, From Chaos to Confidence: Emerging Players, Emerging Technologies, Emerging Challenges, this year’s survey reveals that business leaders around the world are feeling much more confident in innovation despite facing growing challenges.

The findings represent a pulse of the state of innovation today across the globe. All respondents’ line of work involves taking part in their company’s innovation process and policies for making decisions related to innovation, product development or research and development (R&D) activities in their company.

The barometer also highlights new innovation champions on the horizon as Asia and emerging markets are perceived as being more innovative than in previous years while the United States and Germany drop in their innovation champion status.

New to the survey this year were questions around the impact of protectionist policies on innovation and business. The GIB found that a small majority (55%) of business leaders globally believe a political protectionist stance on innovation would be beneficial to businesses in their country, citing jobs  and a strong workforce (73%) as well as an increased competitive edge for domestic businesses (86%) as the top reasons. However, many of these same executives believe that multinational companies are the principal drivers of innovation in their countries, that governments are neither driving innovation nor able to keep up with the pace of change, and that regulations around privacy and data are stifling innovation.

As global executives experience the reality of implementing innovation, they are reporting that many under-hyped technologies may have the potential to be as transformative and impactful as those like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that receive the most attention. For example, business leaders say smart energy grids (74%), virtual healthcare (68%) and smart cities (71%) may bring transformative  change to their countries despite being relatively under-hyped technologies.

Global executives are excited about the potential for 3D printing, with 63% saying it will have a positive impact on businesses in their country, 91% saying it will increase creativity, and 89% saying it will get goods to market faster. However, 53% say 3D printing has yet to reach its full potential, indicating that it needs more education and reassurance.

Globally, business leaders say 40% of their innovations are having a positive impact on their company’s bottom line, yet they face growing challenges. Insufficient funding (67%), an inability to scale innovations to wider markets (65%), and a lack of appetite when it comes to taking risks (64%) are all challenges that have spiked in just four years.

As both governments and businesses grapple with the impact of automation and the future of work, nearly three in four global executives believe a lack of skills is an issue facing their industry.

Keep checking the GE Reports Africa blog as they will be publishing country-specific GIB data about South Africa and Nigeria in coming weeks.

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