1. Doing Instead of Talking
The basic principle for every successful idea is to first and foremost start with it. As simple as this may sound, it is sometimes difficult for us, Germans to implement. We struggle to take the initiative. The supposed obstacles come to the spotlight. The hardest step is the first one you have to take. Germany used to be the land of the doers. ‘Made in Germany’ stood for stability, excellent workmanship and innovative strength. Over the years, however, an attitude of resting on one's laurels has spread throughout the country. It’s not only dangerous, it is also doesn’t help to drive innovation. We have to venture out of this wait-and-see position and find the courage to take risks again. Whether it's the establishment of a new start-up, an in-house new project, or the coming together of many bright minds. The most important step is the first one. And the starting position in Germany is as comfortable and good as hardly ever before. We have almost unlimited access to information, training opportunities and budgets. I grew up in a generation that was constantly assured that it could become anything, everything was possible, every child was special and talented. This was well-intentioned, but nevertheless disastrous, because it not only resulted in a misjudgment of one's own strengths. It also greatly frustrated young people when things did not go as hoped. They would then rather embark on a search for meaning than on a search for themselves, in order to accept challenges and grow. We have to overcome this dilemma again. To tackle problems and accept setbacks. This is the mindset that’s necessary for our economy and research to promote growth. Hence the motto: Just do it.
2. Taking Care of Funds
One of the main arguments for the lack of innovation projects these days is the lack of financial resources. There is simply not enough money to set up projects, conduct research or establish a Deep Tech start-up. Clearly, entrepreneurship is associated with a certain amount of risk and not everyone has enough capital of their own. However, countless public and private funds are available, especially in the area of innovation promotion. The KFW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) alone lists six different forms of credit on its website with a maximum funding amount of up to 25 million Euros. These promotional loans have been set up especially for the advancement of innovation.
1.) Digitization loan (loan between 25,000 and 25 million) (for investments and working capital in the fields of innovation and digitization for companies and freelancers)
2.) ERP- Mezzanine for innovation (financing package up to 5 million for the development of new products, processes and services)
3.) KFW Kredit für Wachstum (syndicated loan for digitization and innovation, etc.)
The Ministry of Economics also provides a variety of subsidies. In general, the federal states, the state and the EU offer a wide range of funding programs. As a general rule, funds are lowest at the federal state level, but they are provided most quickly, followed by the state and the EU. Since not only German guidelines have to be taken into account when it comes to the EU, the approval of these funds sometimes takes the longest. Nevertheless, they are available (often untouched) and are waiting for the next innovation driver in our country.
3. Cross-functional Work
With Corona, we currently have a showcase example of how quickly we can adapt to a new situation and, for example, work together remotely over a longer period of time. The current situation demands a high degree of flexibility from us, in addition to resilience. We also need this flexibility when it comes to breaking out of the classic silo thinking and leaving our working microcosm. The times when people only exchanged ideas within their own department are over and no longer correspond to the image of a modern, dynamic working environment. It is common that the conversations in the office kitchen or the small short chats in the hallway are decisive for the one idea that changes everything. For this reason, numerous companies have been developing concepts for designing office spaces in such a way that they invite people to communicate across several areas. And even if the current situation makes physical exchange difficult, we are proving that we can also achieve brilliant work results with each other virtually. So why not do the same when it comes to innovation?
4. Investing In Talent Development
In addition to a number of organized programs, such as digital hubs, think tanks and so on, it is up to the employers to be heard. In the coming years software developers, data analysts, data scientists, web analysts and machine learning experts will be in greater demand than ever before. In large parts, this is already the case today. New professions are being created that we can only imagine nowadays. In the course of the digital transformation, there is therefore a whole range of skills that are in demand. Most of them relate to the ability to handle technology, but soft skills are also becoming increasingly important. There are now numerous lists of these so-called ‘future skills’. This is where companies are in charge. In addition to the digitization of their own company, active talent development should also be on the agenda. This is the only way to ensure that employees are equipped with the proper know-how. They are a company's most important assets and ultimately crucial for the innovation process.
5. Unconventional Thinking
Children are by nature free and unrestricted in their thinking. They see the world as explorers. This unstructured and creative approach is then trained away from them at school and during their education. The problem is: What is useful for practicing discipline and perseverance is a hindrance to visionary thinking. And it then must be laboriously activated again. I was recently allowed to test how this can be achieved at a workshop in Salzburg. There we learned how to use Lego bricks to bring abstract concepts into form and color. Within a very short time, we were able to make abstract future scenarios tangible. Such or similar techniques facilitate creative work and should (again) be part of our everyday work. The way in which creativity is sparked plays a subordinate role. The important thing is to create an environment in which this is possible.
6. Reflect On Your Own Values
When it comes to innovative spirit, we often look at Silicon Valley or Shengzhen in China. Regarding technology and innovation, they seem to be doing something right and we can learn a lot from these models. But I would like us to do this without envy, or even worse, without letting it frustrate us and slow us down even further. Just as fear has never been a good advisor, envy is certainly not a good motivator. Yes, Germany has lost its pioneering role as an industrial nation and production leader. We have missed important key moments and have to acknowledge that other digital ecosystems are ahead. Nevertheless, we still have the potential for groundbreaking innovations. What helps us now is a good dose of humility and the will to learn from others. Germany has a new place in the global ranking and this requires us to become aware of our role and our new responsibility. There is little room for vanity in global competition.
7. Count On Europe
Ultimately, everything that has been said up to now is invalid if we only look at ourselves; to be successful in the long term, we need Europe. Only by working together can we succeed in growing beyond our own borders. Within our community of values, which shares much more than just a currency, a group of experts has arisen, whose knowledge is invaluable to many companies, but also to research institutions. Individually, the countries may achieve small successes. Together, they create real impact. The central networking of expertise in Europe is a fundamental pivot for the promotion of innovation. Only with combined resources can Europe be a technology driver in global competition and act on an equal footing with the USA and China in the areas of artificial intelligence, digital ecosystems, smart cities, autonomous driving, etc. Perhaps soon it will no longer be ‘Made in Germany’ but ‘Made in Europe’ and will stand for value, stability and innovation. The prospects are promising. Now it is up to us to draw the right conclusions and act.