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The Technological Dimension of Innovation

Posted By Scott Marchese, Friday, March 12, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Discussions about innovation in b-school journals or magazine articles very often include technology as an essential component of the innovative process. This seems reasonable: a given system or set of functions has a ceiling in terms of efficiency or outcomes (an optimization). Technology, however, may be continually improved, applied, and distributed in novel ways, enabling new or improved techniques and products to cascade across economic/social spheres or systems of production. If business schools want to improve their respective countries' development trajectories, especially over the long term, it appears consequent that they must fully engage with this technological dimension of innovation.

In what forms does such engagement come? It depends on national and regional characteristics, although some requisites -literacy, computer skills, Internet access- are shared between all societies seeking immersion and active participation in the digital revolution. Building blocks for innovative social arrangements include a strong telecommunications/IT infrastructure, a literate and well-educated population, lack of overly draconian business/media regulations, and a functioning intellectual property rights system. (some observers, for example, blame a lack of e-property rights enforcement on China's relative dearth of IT innovations). These areas imply some degree of public, or government, participation in the decision-making process; indeed, education, infrastructure, and rule of law are usually considered, in late modernity, as public goods.

Business schools may help play a complementary role in catalyzing the private sector: improving management practices, producing technological expertise, and perhaps instilling social, ethical, and/or environmental considerations more deeply into business culture. Can they, however, make a decisive impact on development without simultaneous advances in those necessary conditions -literacy, infrastructure, etc.-? Perhaps, but with significant constraints. A recent book from the Center for Global Development highlights unreliable infrastructure, particularly electricity supply, as a huge problem for African businesses. The authors contend that while Africa has substantial entrepreneurial activity, infrastructure and political economy failures keep much of this activity segmented, erratic, and at a small scale.

If this is indeed the case in Africa and other nations, then innovation's digital cart still lacks a healthy electric horse. Business schools and other powerful private-sector agents might benefit from more intense engagement with these somewhat mundane yet critical issues if they wish to promote sustainable development.


Vijaya Ramachandran, co-author of 'Africa's Private Sector: What's Wrong With the Business Environment and What to Do About It' discusses themes of her book along with some interesting development solutions: Watch the video

Buy the book




Scott Marchese was a former intern for the Global School Business Network.

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