With the drivers of change transforming the world of work at unprecedented pace and scale, innovation becomes a major imperative for successful organisations.

In tomorrow’s world, effective innovation will mean not only embracing technological developments, but also harnessing imagination and creativity. In the words of Apple founder, Steve Jobs: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse’. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Employers will need to have employees with the appropriate skills to embrace innovation while also imbuing a culture of innovation throughout their workforce. Innovation encompasses the mundane as well as the ground-breaking progressions.

Technological innovation will continue to be important in the future, especially staying abreast of the capabilities and potential of automation, big data and artificial intelligence (see technology – automation, artificial intelligence and data). But a strong focus on innovation in sustainability, resilience and flexibility will be critical as well (see sustainability; emerging themes - flexibility; and emerging – resilience).

As remote and hybrid working become increasingly common, they will require innovation to enable workers to adapt and successfully harness their potential (see Covid-19 – agile working).

Governments will need to foster a culture of innovation too. Take, for instance, the area of patent applications where the UK has some way to go. Unlike all but one of the top ten patent application offices, its number of applications fell over the last two years. This illustrates the growing rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse, with four of the top seven offices being in that continent (see globalisation – geo-politics). Looking at patent applications by country of origin, the UK comes seventh behind China, the US, Japan, South Korea, Germany and France.



Numbers of patent applications give an idea of the technical innovation taking place in different jurisdictions. The numbers for 2019 highlight China’s advance as an innovator. Over the last ten years Chinese patent applications have increased 358% whereas, in the UK (12th most applications with 19,250 in 2019), the number of applications fell.

Innovative firms

OECD data identifies countries with the most innovative firms by assessing the percentage of firms reporting one or more innovations in the reference period. It also identifies the countries with the highest proportion of public support for innovation. This highlights the US as an outlier where limited public support for innovation does not seem to hinder an innovative business environment. Canada, with the highest proportion of innovative firms,  also features a high proportion of firms benefiting from public support for innovation.



One concern often raised about the shift to home working is its potential impact on innovation. Employers fear that the absence of in-person contact will stifle innovation. This is amongst the reasons some organisations will continue to require minimum levels of attendance at the office. Facilitating innovation will be amongst the factors driving decisions about new working arrangements. 

Culture of innovation

Culture of innovation

The skills valued in an organisation’s workforce will extend beyond a person’s technical capabilities to softer skills. Important amongst these will be the ability, engagement  and imagination to innovate. Cultivating a culture of innovation will feature highly in organisations’ reward and training and development programmes.

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