UK leaders need to take direct roles in driving innovation

But when it comes to the quality of said innovation, the UK drops off the chart, with the top positions giving way to the US, Japan and Germany. It seems that British companies are less likely to focus on product innovation than their international counterparts as well as collaborate with academics, despite the Global Innovation Index highlighting a clear competitive advantage in the British university sector.

And although 76 per cent of businesses aim to grow in the next five years, data suggests that management teams need to start backing bolder innovations in order to fuel UK economic growth. In fact, there is a direct link between companies focussing on innovation and successful growth.

Recent PwC research explains that the top 20 per cent of companies (who all focus on innovation as a mainstream activity) have grown 50 per cent faster than the least innovative companies have in the last three years. They also earned an extra £250m across the same period.

The average UK business, however, was actually worse than globally. They were less innovative, less focused on innovation as a driver for growth and therefore achieved less revenue growth.

This diminished interest in innovation could partly be due to the move away from manufacturing towards financial services in the 1980s, which led to businesses approaching innovation half-heartedly. It’s clear that innovation is a key driver for growth across the global economy.

This lacklustre approach and the results thereof are quite surprising given amazing UK creative companies such as Rolls Royce and Dyson. David Percival, global client innovation lead partner at PwC, explains that “we’re very good at coming up with great ideas, but the hardest thing isn’t coming up with the great ideas, it’s monetising them, getting them to volume and getting them to scale. And that’s one of the areas that the UK is struggling with.”

Interestingly, where the UK has a heavy focus on technology and services, the rest of the world seems to be looking at product innovation. Only 16 per cent of UK companies see product innovation as a priority over the next year, compared to a third of global competitors. And although we have a real strength in services, “historically, service industries weren’t as focused on innovation as the product industries and therefore they’re just less experienced at it, and their innovation capabilities are less mature,” said Percival. 

“But the biggest difference between the UK and the rest of the world is leadership. In the most powerful companies in the innovation space, the top 20 per cent, the leaders take a direct role in driving innovation within their companies.”

If you’re one of the businesses, are know of a business that is taking an active role in driving innovation then enter the Innovation category of this year’s Growing Business Awards. Nominations are open now and will close on the 19th September. For more information and to submit your free nomination, visit the Growing Business Awards site.

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