Ideas: unique raw material for the new inspiration economy

10 commandments for businesses to innovate with results

If you want to grow in today’s world and stay competitive with high-quality products and services, you need to commit totally to innovation. In our innovation-driven economy, inspiration and ideas are becoming the most important raw materials. And this is how we are evolving towards a new inspiration economy. “More and stronger international competition, as well as the search for ‘the next big thing,’ mean that companies and regions that want to play in the premier league have no choice but to get into the inspiration economy. The generation of ideas is becoming very important, but so is cross-pollination between ideas,” says Vlerick researcher Bart Devoldere. Along with professors Leo Sleuwaegen, Marion Debruyne, Miguel Meuleman, Katleen De Stobbeleir and Marc Buelens, he wants to map out the way the new inspiration economy works at the Flanders DC Knowledge Centre.

Economic dynamics

Economic reality is evolving as we speak and the laws of competitiveness are not just changing fast, they are changing dramatically. Broadly speaking, there are three levels of economic development, explains Bart Devoldere. “In a factor economy, the key to success is the search for production factors such as labour and raw materials that are as cheap as possible. Growth can then be achieved by manufacturing and selling standardised products for a low price. If you want to be more competitive, you need to shift up a gear and grow into an efficiency economy. Growth there is achieved by means of a more efficient organisation of the production process in which you offer more sophisticated products and services. This requires highly trained employees and knowledge capital becomes far more important.”

Innovate differently and better

The peak of economic development, however, is the innovation-driven inspiration economy, where growth arises out of innovation, creativity and competing ‘differently.’ The products are even more sophisticated; services become even more important, as does the integration of products and services. Although businesses are becoming more and more aware of the importance of innovation, Bart believes that they still commit too narrowly to product innovation. Moreover the final step, marketing, is an area where things often go wrong. “As is the case in many other European countries, a lot of our budget in Belgium and Flanders goes towards technological product development. Add to this the fact that these investments unfortunately do not always translate into business value. We put too much of a one-sided focus on product innovation and developments do not always find their way onto the market. However there are many other kinds of innovation that can help to herald a new period of growth for businesses. I am thinking of business model innovation, service innovation or marketing innovation.”    

The power of spillovers

The basis of the inspiration economy is a greater quantity, higher quality and wider diversity of innovation. The raw material for such innovation is ideas. These might be new ideas, but they might also be existing ideas applied in a new context. Spillovers, as we call them. Spillovers are extremely important, as Bart explains: “A typical example of how spillovers come about is job rotation. This might happen within one company or across several companies or even sectors. Another way of generating spillovers is through open innovation, where you work together with customers, suppliers or even competitors to arrive at innovations different from those you obtain by traditional routes.”

Partnerships, especially those between sectors, are essential. Yet many businesses wrestle with the question of how you go about creating them in practice and how open you should be. How can you explore this ‘terra incognita’? How can you seek out and find new ideas and above all be inspired by other people, sectors or applications? Should you do this by looking as widely as you can, across sectors and national borders?  Or is it better to opt for a clear focus? Since, at the end of the road, you obviously want to be able to cash in on the value you have generated as well. And that is precisely what Bart and Flanders DC want to investigate. “The inspiration economy offers enormous opportunities, but it also presents all kinds of threats. This is why we want to do further research into the importance of spillovers in the growth of labour productivity and to map out the most important flows of ideas between people and businesses. And we plan to do that both within sectors and between them. Ultimately we want to be able to provide better insights into how we can achieve the inspiration economy in Flanders more quickly. To get the discussion going, we have come up with 10 commandments that we believe lie at the heart of the inspiration economy. They are the starting point for the Inspiration Challenge, an online discussion platform on how you can put these commandments into practice.”

The 10 commandments of the inspiration economy

  1. Thou shalt always put thy ideas into action and action into thy ideas
  2. Thou shalt be generous (but not naïve)
  3. Thou shalt involve committed volunteers at the right time
  4. Thou shalt leave thy ivory tower and go in search of terra incognita
  5. Thou shalt worship contrasts and paradoxes as thou adores cohesion
  6. Thou shalt explore many horizons without denying thy roots
  7. Thou shalt avoid excess. Thou shalt simplify and repeat
  8. Thou shalt play fast in a slow game and slow in a fast game
  9. Thou shalt practice the virtue of humility
  10.   Thou shalt always look at the big picture and learn to think systemically

Inspiration Challenge: join the conversation

The inspiration economy is still in its infancy, but in the future success will increasingly be the result of creativity and inspiration. How can teams, companies and regions best approach the 10 commandments of the inspiration economy? How can you prepare for these new challenges?  Vlerick Business School and Flanders DC are getting the discussion going with the Inspiration Challenge, a closed discussion platform where you can share your thoughts with colleagues, Vlerick professors and experts from Flanders DC. Tell us why you want to take part in this Inspiration Challenge and your unique ideas might win you a ticket to the Trends Vlerick Business Academy or the Flanders DC Creativity World Forum.



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