2014-11-13

GE's Innovation Barometer: USA, Germany Are Champions Of Change

What’s the most innovative country in the world? According to a global group of business executives, the United States is leading the way. But the Middle East is where people think most strongly that innovation will lead to better lives.

Looking for improvements in energy security, environmental quality, education, and transportation? Better move to the U.S. That is, at least, what the results from GE’s annual Innovation Barometer seem to say. The survey, now in its second year, polled 3,000 senior business executives in 22 countries about innovation in their companies.

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The U.S. was identified by respondents as the most innovative country in the world, with Germany, Japan, and China trailing fairly far behind. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The study also reveals that executives in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, and Singapore are happiest with their country’s innovation environment. Japan, on the other hand, reported one of the lowest satisfaction levels—despite the outside view that it’s one of the most innovative countries.

Some more stats:

  • 73% of executives think that innovation will be driven by creativity rather than scientific research.
  • 71% reveal that the lackluster global economy has triggered cuts in research and development spending.
  • 90% believe that innovation is the best way to make a more competitive economy and generate jobs.
  • 77% think that small and mid-sized businesses can innovate just as well as big companies.

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Despite their belief in innovation as a tool to grow economies, business leaders aren’t too sure that they will be the ones to make a better world. In the chart above, we can see how optimistic executives are that business can result in a better life. The result: half of respondents think that business can improve communication, but they aren’t quite as sure about sectors like health care, the environment, energy security, and education.

GE might have something to say about that, of course—the company has invested billions in the Ecomagination initiative, which focuses on environmental and energy performance R&D. The company also has a massive health-care R&D program, with $1 billion dedicated through 2020 solely to cancer R&D.

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Optimism about whether business can deliver a better life varies greatly by country. The U.S., that great champion of innovation, isn’t particularly optimistic. The Middle East is—the UAE, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are more enthusiastic than their counterparts elsewhere. Beth Comstock, GE’s Chief Marketing Officer, explained in a conference call that "the Middle East is a growth market for energy and health care."

But here’s the thing: while many of us believe that the private sector can be a major instigator of social change, business leaders don’t entirely agree. It’s partially a result of the economy, sure, but more optimism in the power of innovation would be welcome. Without optimism, there’s little hope for change.

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