Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors, said his main purpose in life was to make enough money to create ever more inventions. “I find out what the world needs,” Edison declared. “Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”
That sentiment still resonates. GE’s 2016 Global Innovation Barometer, an annual survey that explores how business leaders and the public see innovation, found that they viewed the most innovative companies as those “who create entirely new markets or products, rather than improving or iterating on exiting ones.”
The results, which were released today on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, found that respondents were optimistic about the business potential of digital technologies and big data and “felt curious” about “the fourth Industrial Revolution” they have have set off. However, many of them feared being left behind by technologies evolving faster than they could adapt, and most still favored an incremental approach to innovation that mitigated risk.
Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist, said he was “stunned” and “inspired” by the Barometer’s findings on jobs. Only 17 percent of business executives and 15 percent of the informed public expected the digital-industrial innovation to have a negative impact on jobs, he said. “This is a stunning result that flies in the face of all the scaremongering articles telling us that innovation will destroy jobs,” Annunziata said. “I think the reason is that digital-industrial innovation is already here, it is already taking place, and people can see that it does not destroy jobs. There is now a much greater understanding that the industry of the future is one where humans and machines will work side by side, and that this will result in more and better jobs. It is part of the more general attitude toward innovation you can see in the barometer, but for me this is the most surprising — and inspiring — result.”
The epicenter of the digital revolution has been Silicon Valley and the U.S. has remained global innovation champion. Japan climbed to No.2. However, the barometer detected the highest excitement about innovation in emerging economies like Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. They reported feeling greatly empowered by the global digital transformation.
“This year’s Barometer highlights the enormous pressure put on businesses to disrupt themselves,” said Beth Comstock, GE vice chair for innovation. “But a belief in the transformative power of innovation persists, propelling them forward as they struggle and adapt to today’s increasingly competitive business environment.”
Edison, whose power plants and electric machines helped build the foundation on which GE stands today, would have agreed. Explore the Innovation Barometer results in full and find more related stories, quizzes and infographics on its dedicated page here.