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Can Asians innovate?

Zafar Anjum | May 30, 2014
According to Kishore Mahbubani, this is Asia’s moment in history and waves of inventions will transform Asia.

The discussion ranged from the role of governments in fostering innovation to the significance of culture in promoting innovation.

Here is a summary of the main points the panelists made:

Success factors for innovations

  • Build the proof of concept
  • Technology is never enough. The last thing we want is a technology looking for a problem
  • You need patience and resilience
  • Timing is very important
  • Political support is very important
  • Much better to be two years ahead of time than ten years ahead of time
  • Market orientation and customer focus is necessary to succeed

Role of Government in promoting innovation

  • A lot of technology in the past was initiated by government in universities, governments made the investments - military-industrial complex
  • Ecology of invention: institutions invent, private sector captures the benefits
  • Steve Black: It took four wars to make the Silicon Valley
  • 3D printing- Defense and Government will play an important role but private sector is also innovating without any government help
  • Regulatory role of government  will stay
  • There has to be innovation at the government level too: Government needs to have dynamic policies to deal with challenges like Uber and Airbnb
  • Governments can help create demand to incite innovation
  • There are a lot of early stage inventors but the problem is getting the inventions deployed
  • Governments are not playing the role that they once used to. Give them the incentives, give the MNCs confidence that if they invent what the government wants, then the MNCs will start making long term investments. Currently, this is not the situation and there is short-termism


  • Globalised aspect of innovation is a crucial factor
  • Multicultural teams: Everybody brings some cultural element to the mix. Collaboration is very hard. To get a methodology humming is not easy.
  • Sometimes it takes decades to see inventions come to affect the market and generate more inventions
  • Cynicism needs to be amped down in older cultures like India and China
  • Younger countries more open to innovations and trying failure
  • Travelling, literature, working or studying abroad, hanging out with local folks, really broadens our horizons
  • The world's problem are so large-scale that we need to collaborate; a single inventor can't solve the global problems
  • Our culture can make us less inventive over time
  • Picking up the context of what needs to be innovated
  • Demand for solutions in elder care issues and air quality and food quality issues
  • The IPO market is there but solving world problems is more fascinating
  • What will turbo charge innovation? It is demand!


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