Karla Cedano
Expert Contributor

No Ifs, Ands or Buts in regards to Technological Innovation

By Karla Cedano | Mon, 09/05/2022 - 12:00

I remember that many years ago, the residents of a town protested against the possible construction of a golf club, citing many environmental, cultural, social and even economic reasons, despite the fact that the promoters of the club promised a multimillion-dollar investment and the generation of jobs for the locals. The locals, however, argued that such investment would only bring low-income jobs: for gardeners, waiters, and maids, mostly. Clearly, we all prefer better-paid sources of employment, which require highly qualified labor and, therefore, represent not only the benefit of direct jobs but also the economic benefit that these well-paid jobs generate, in a cascade effect.

The economic development triggered by high-tech innovation is the main reason why other countries in the world have decided to push this industry aggressively and urgently. However, some of us believe that it is not enough to promote high-tech companies around a single innovative product or service, which is usually the goal in most technology-based incubators. This idea reminds me of Doña Mary, who had a tomato stand in front of my school. The good woman worked from 7 a.m. until after 3 p.m. One day before 8 a.m., she was approached by someone who offered to buy all the tomatoes that she was carrying. Doña Mary looked at her strangely and replied: “No ma’am! What are you thinking? If I sell you everything now, then, what would I sell the rest of the day?”

For a high-tech company to really be successful, it needs to generate innovation based on knowledge; that is, to be part of a scientific-technological niche that is a continuous supply of technological innovations. It is not enough to market a patent or provide an excellent technological service. It is essential to have a repertoire of knowledge from which innovations continually emerge. The life cycle of technological products or services is very short. Ensuring the success of the high-tech industry is only possible if we turn to universities and research centers, our natural knowledge factories, and build firm, wide, two-way bridges that allow a continuous exchange of knowledge between the market, the company, and the researchers.

We know that innovating is not just doing new things. Innovation is a process that necessarily combines the detection of market opportunities, the organization's capabilities, the generation of novelties and customer acceptance. The phrase “innovate or die” is well known, especially in business circles, where competition is so intense that only innovative companies survive. However, making the decision to allocate resources to invest in innovation is not easy, especially in times of economic crisis. And in Mexico, we are always going through some kind of crisis. So, even though investing in innovation is necessary and therefore important, urgent issues, such as payroll, taxes, or declining income, take priority and require resources and attention.

It is believed that the difference between private companies and academic organizations is so great that they constitute different worlds. This abyss is not so great since there are more coincidences than differences. In fact, we can appreciate this similarity with the term with which Ikujiro Nonaka defines companies: "knowledge-generating organizations.” a concept familiar to a research center. His organizational theory focuses on the fact that companies are not only producers of goods or services but, more importantly, they constantly generate knowledge and that, thanks to that continuous generation, they achieve success. Nonaka’s followers believe that to achieve this, it is necessary to promote a knowledge transfer process between all the components of the organization, and therefore, taking care of the environment where this occurs is fundamental. We even consider that the most important asset of organizations has nothing to do with the goods they produce, or the raw materials they use, not even with economic capital. It is knowledge and, therefore, those who generate, communicate, and manage it. Thus, the success of a company depends on the human factor, on the trust with which people share knowledge and the commitment that this creates among everyone.

In an organization of this type, the person responsible for knowledge transfer in the best possible way must have the ability to take care of the environment, generate trust among the work team, ensure the group's commitment to the project and encourage affection toward the organization, since these four elements are the pillars on which an effective knowledge-generation process is based. This person in charge is not a foreman, not a president, not a boss, not even a manager or an administrator. Nonaka calls the leader of this process the Moderator, since this function is not to run around, preside over, command or administer. The Moderator understands the team and the environment and ensures that knowledge transfer takes place. The Moderator takes care of the relationships between talented members, promotes the improvement of each other, knows the organizational dynamics and promotes individual and group contributions.

Our Mexican industry needs to fully integrate the culture of innovation. Our academic community can suggest innovative solutions to business problems. Furthermore, it has a significant collection of scientific-technological inventions, which “only” require a business ally to continue their evolution and transform them into innovative technological developments. Most importantly, we have specialists in innovation management throughout the Mexican republic who are capable of being Moderators of these industry-academia alliances.

There are no ifs, ands or buts. Fortunately, the excuses that for years have been the common denominator for the lack of investment in technological innovation in Mexico should be gone.

Photo by:   Karla Cedano