Last, week I had the opportunity to speak on Renaissance Innovation at the World  Knowledge Forum, 2011 in Seoul, Korea. The event was very well attended with  many interesting speakers, from government, (Sarah Palin, Gordon Brown, Seiji Maehara), academics (Larry Summers, Nouriel Roubini) and business (Tom Albanese, Nishida Atsutoshi). For me,  there were three  interesting observations. First, how innovation has come to completely dominate the policy and business agenda. Second, how little we know about how to actually become innovative and third, how innovation translates across borders. Let me elaborate.

Each of the above leaders highlighted the importance of innovation  in turning around companies, bringing growth back to the developed world, helping companies move up the value chain, and helping the emerging economies transition to consumption-driven models.  The  host nation, South Korea has long had an industrial  policy of  ” From Imitation to Innovation”. Despite all this recognition of the importance of  innovation, there was surprising little clarity on what forms innovation can take and how to go about doing it.

As I  have seen in most of my speaking and teaching on innovation, almost everyone believes that innovation comes from  developing new technology (AI, nano, bio-tech and whatever is the flavor of  the day)  or designing great new products (like Apple).  Regular readers of this blog will recognize that this is a very incomplete view. As with the tens of  case studies  on  business model innovation on  this blog, companies that innovate their business model grow as much as technology or product innovators (if not more) and have the revolutionary impact the business and government leaders are looking for. Recognizing this blind spot and making conscious efforts to identify business model innovations is an important step to becoming more innovative.

Interestingly, business model innovations also translate very well from one country to another. During my time in Korea, I was delighted to meet many local entrepreneurs who had essentially adapted business models developed in other parts of the world to Korea. One popular business model innovation, that has traveled well across borders and to Korean shores is low-cost airlines. Starting with Southwest in the US, to Ryan Air in Europe to Air Busan in Korea! To be sure, this is not about just copying the model from one place to another– it often requires selecting the right target market, configuration where the key idea behind the innovation will be most potent, and often adapting to the model to this  newly identified target. Only those who understand the science behind these business model innovations are able to pull it off.