Innovation guru: Israelis need more faith in themselves

‘Challenge orthodoxies, harness trends,’ says Rowan Gibson. Israelis, he notes, should pay special attention to that message

Rowan Gibson (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Rowan Gibson (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel may have the tech smarts, but technology isn’t enough to make it in today’s world, according to innovation expert Rowan Gibson. In fact, any start-up – or veteran business, for that matter – that plans on being around for the long term really has no choice. “It’s either innovate or die, and the inability or unwillingness of Israeli start-ups to be innovative is reflected in their apparent willingness to sell themselves out.”

And sell themselves short, said Gibson on a visit to Israel. Speaking at last month’s Innovex event, one of Israel’s biggest annual technology shows, Gibson spoke to a crowd of hundreds of entrepreneurs, business executives, and government officials about the importance of doing business in a game-changing manner. “A lot of people talk about ‘innovation,’ but very few seem to know how to do it,” Gibson told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview. “To succeed, a lot of businesses rely on chaos, and luck – and that is obviously not a winning formula.”

Gibson, of course, did not invent the term “innovation,” but he perhaps more than anyone before has turned it from guesswork into a science. He has written two books on the subject (a third is due out next month), and has appeared before audiences of executives in large companies all over the world.

For Israeli entrepreneurs, getting innovation right is perhaps more crucial than for entrepreneurs elsewhere; without large markets to try out their ideas, Israeli start-ups are thrust into the international lion’s den almost as soon as their products or services are ready for the market. There they compete against others who may have the advantage of speaking the same language as their customers.

Successful innovation, like anything else in life, is the result of planning, Gibson said.

“There’s a theory and practice of innovation, consisting of four basic components,” said Gibson. “Successful innovators are able to challenge orthodoxies, asking why things are being done one way, and finding a better way to do it; they harness trends, taking advantage of what is going on around them right now, not in ten years from now; they leverage their resources, using successful products or services to introduce and promote others; and they understand the needs of their customers, why they have those needs and how no one else is satisfying them.”

In his books, Gibson elaborates on his ideas, and gives concrete examples of companies that innovated, from Disney to Ikea to Whirlpool (which he calls one of the most innovative companies in the world).

Innovative companies won’t just do well in the here and now, said Gibson; they are more likely to be around for the long term.

“It’s all about mental conditioning,” Gibson said. “If the mindset is ‘let’s sell out for the most money we can get as soon as possible,’ it means that the inventors of that technology don’t have faith in themselves or their ideas – and have no clue about how to innovate. That tech will probably be bought by an organization that does know how to innovate, and they are the ones who will create the billion dollar product or service, and reap the benefits. Why shouldn’t Israelis be the ones to reap those benefits – and build the global brands the country deserves to have?”

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