25 June, 2015

The New York Times got it wrong about European Innovation.


The relayr team is knowledgeable and passionate about all things IoT and innovation. This passion lends itself to great creativity and drive, and also a need to share that knowledge with others who will benefit from it most. The following is an article from our Co-Founder and Head of Product, Jackson Bond, sharing his knowledge and passion about European Innovation.


Steve Jobs, left, and Steve Wozniak of Apple in 1976.

Steve Jobs, left, and Steve Wozniak of Apple in 1976. – *Image Credit: DB Apple/Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Corbis


After her visit to Berlin a few weeks ago, my friend Elise, from New Jersey, sent me a link to last Thursday’s New York Times article by James Stewart, “A Fearless Culture Fuels U.S. Tech Giants“. As co-founder of a few tech start-ups here in Germany, where I have lived for the past 23 years, she knew I would be excited to read about this. After reading it, however, I was only angry.


The NYT piece was just another article that had great potential but was, unfortunately, filled with outdated, clichéd stereotypes of Europe’s dwindling innovation power and weak from a research and analysis perspective. Stewart’s aim seems to be to elevate Silicon Valley, once again, as the force behind global innovation, by diminishing Europe as its antithesis, yet he does not seem to have done the homework to back up his claims.


One of the outdated and oft-repeated points he makes early on relates to the American culture of failure. “Often overlooked in the success of American start-ups is the even greater number of failures. ‘Fail fast, fail often’ is a Silicon Valley mantra, and the freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail. In Europe, failure carries a much greater stigma than it does in the United States.” While this maybe true to a small degree, it is a gross generalization of what has been happening in European innovation in the last few years.


Distressingly, the only two European experts cited for this piece are European by birth, but are researchers currently living and working in the US. Jacob Kirkegaard works in Washington DC at the Peterson Institute, and has a background in government and military, not innovation or entrepreneurial endeavors. Petra Moser, a German, has been teaching Economics at Stanford, in Silicon Valley, since 2006; and her public CV shows that she has been working mostly in the US since 1992. While Moser has published frequently on the topic of patents, she also does not appear to have a hands-on business or entrepreneurial background. These two European Innovation Culture “experts” appear to be lacking in any sort of experience in innovation at either the start-up level or at the corporate level. While not discounting their opinions as invalid, I do find it curious that they do not seem to have any perspective on the massive shift in innovation culture that is happening in Germany, at the heart of Europe.


John Chambers, long-time CEO of Cisco Systems, (a paradigm of Silicon Valley and Stanford, and named after San FranCISCO), seems to have more useful insights, that Stewart may have been wise to include, had he done his homework. In his recent Keynote at Cisco Live in San Diego, Chambers made an interesting comparison between the US and Europe. “Clinton got it right back in the early 90s to invest in the Information Age” to fuel the US economy and to propel the US into the leading position for innovation around IT. But now entering the Digital Age, “you are about to see the same thing occur, but this time it’s not going to be lead by the US. Europe is in the lead, to be very candid. (Angela) Merkel and her “Industry 4.0”, Cameron and his “Information Age”, but perhaps most creative is France, and Alan and what he understands about digitizing his country.”


It’s not just European governments pushing for change in innovation, but even large European industrial associations are pushing aggressively for acceleration and adopting new innovation models as we enter the next transformation of the information age into the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, the Industry for Electronics and Electrical Engineering and Technology, employing nearly 850,000, with combined revenue of €178bn in 2012, is at the heart of IoT.


Michael Ziesemer, president of ZVEI, the industry’s association representing 1600 companies, was recently quoted in FAZ (Germany’s New York Times), saying: “Start small, but start now! Make your experiences and learnings so you are well prepared for the next steps.” In other words, perhaps without knowing it, Ziesemer seemed to be advising something very similar to the Lean Methodology so prevalent in start-ups around the world, taking iterative small steps, making “mistakes” and measuring the results of those steps, and learning and adjusting as you go. Think like a start-up, in start-up speed.


There is a new culture of rapid innovation at the heart of Europe, and around Europe. I was recently invited, as one of two startups surrounded by Germany’s global powerhouse companies, to speak at the German Innovation Award Conference, sponsored by Accenture, Energy Baden Wurttemberg, and Evonik Industries. Some other companies represented by speakers were Carl Zeiss, ThyssenKrupp, and Siemens; and the common message from these companies was an echo of Ziesemer’s advice to “Start now. Start Small. Don’t Wait. Launch quickly. Digital transformation is happening now.”


I hope Stewart will do a follow up article to reveal more of the exciting and massive transition taking place in the innovation culture across this continent. If he does, I believe he would find that Chambers, Ziesemer, and other innovation leaders Europe would provide invaluable insight that simply can’t be obtained by US sources.


Perhaps the US set the foundation of innovation over the past decade or two, but Europe may very well have learned its lesson and is now perfecting the art of innovation acceleration into the next digital age of the Internet of Things.


Learn more about Innovation Acceleration here.