Industrialist Carl Bennet believes innovation is a concept that is needed in all enterprises and organisations, throughout society.
“Innovation processes are the foundation for creating something that the recipient – the customer – wants,” he says.
Of course, many people associate innovation with leading-edge science and research. So does Carl Bennet. But it goes much further than that.
“It’s all of the little constant innovations, even in places like a supermarket– retailers spending time thinking about how to get the best exposure for their products,” he says.
Carl Bennet’s own ventures show that taking a broad approach to innovation can lead to success. His wholly-owned Lifco Group consists of companies working with things as diverse as dental products and equipment for sawmills. Medtech firm Getinge and printing firm Elanders are other examples of important holdings in Carl Bennet AB.
But this industrialist has also held leading positions in mining company Boliden. Add to this his commitment to social issues, research and education in particular, including when he served as Chairman of the University of Gothenburg, and it is clear that Carl Bennet likes both breadth and depth.
That Lifco has an office in the World Trade Center close to Stockholm’s central station is perhaps partly due to chance. But the location can also be viewed as symbolic.
“Globalisation has raised the stakes for innovation. The competition for markets is increasing all the time.”
And anyone wanting to keep up must think things through properly before processes can be started or investment decisions made.
“I think it’s important to live in the market where you work. A key factor is to listen to and work in cooperation with customers and the people working there. You have to be a part of the process yourself and have the right information.”
One crucial consideration for investment decisions, according to Carl Bennet, is a company’s place in its market niche or geographical region.
“You have to see growth opportunities, but I would rather be a big fish in a small sea than vice versa. A company that has poor leadership but prime products is a good company to get involved in. If, on the other hand, the management is sound but the products are not that great, it will take longer to accelerate growth.”
Carl Bennet feels strongly about the importance of innovation. But he is just as happy to talk about entrepreneurs. Without them, not much would happen with all of the fantastic innovations that are better than ever.
Entrepreneurs are innovators. They drive development. There would be no innovation without people.”
According to Carl Bennet, innovators and entrepreneurs are probably driven by similar things. Knowledge is a keystone for both.
“It’s also important to be able to see where the needs are and use your knowledge to satisfy them. Success factors are a combination of knowledge, environment and society.”
The business climate in a broad sense is important. The so-called ‘climate,’ like the regulations, is important in getting initiatives moving.”
Innovation and entrepreneurs are not only needed to create new, fast-growing companies in modern industries, like Skype, Spotify or Klarna.
“Innovation is also essential for established companies in mature industries. If the process stagnates, the competitors will get ahead. Here again, an insight into what customers want or will want in the future is essential.”
Ideas need to be tested and need time to develop.
“A person with an idea should never be told ‘that’s been tried before.’ It’s important to have a culture that is open to change. Of course, this is the responsibility of company executives.”
They need to provide the right conditions and not be afraid of prioritising.
Even where management and employees are working hard to develop goods and services, it is not easy to predict what will be the next big thing to turn the markets and industries upside down. Or to create new a new one.
“The major inventions have one thing in common at least: they have emerged from independent research. While it’s true that it’s difficult to point to the industries or sectors in society where the next big breakthrough will happen, we know that the needs are already great in the care sector.”
The global population is increasing. And in many countries the ageing population is growing rapidly.
“There is great potential for innovation in the care sector. We have always counted costs in this sector. Now people are starting to focus on measuring quality. And that will result in innovation.”
But this of course requires local governments, industry and academia to work together to meet the challenges.
According to Carl Bennet, measuring the quality of activities that are exposed to competition is in general an effective way of generating innovation.
Again, one source from which innovation will always emerge is research. Carl Bennet has strong opinions about that. He believes there is not enough publicly funded research in Sweden.
“A goal of tax-funded research representing 1 percent of GDP is no way near ambitious enough. It should be double that. And it should be possible to bring about that increase over an eight-year period.”
Despite the difficulties, such as the problem of the quality in education, Carl Bennet believes that Sweden holds a strong position in the global competition.
“Sweden has a strong foothold internationally. Our weakness is not that we have become less competitive, it’s that others have improved. Quality in education is an example of that.”
The business climate in Sweden is fine, but our schools and universities need to raise their quality. Exposing them to even more competition combined with quality measurements is a good way to do this.
There are other elements that in an increased dose could improve Sweden’s competitiveness. Team sports and successful sportsmen/women, such as table tennis star J-O Waldner, could to a lot.
“J-O Waldner is extremely well-known in China. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how big he is there. And naturally this is an important boost for Sweden’s image. Swedish industry could exploit this more. In general, organisations that are exposed to competition have a lot to learn from the sports world. A team needs more than stars; it needs players with different skills if the team as a whole is to succeed.”
Carl Bennet was on the Steering Committee for IVA’s project Innovation Powerhouse Sweden. The project brought together resources at the regional level through local meetings with politicians, business & industry, public authorities and universities.
“Dialogue around the country is important. We met dedicated individuals from a cross section of society. With their help the project was able to test different concepts and ideas. Not just things coming from the central level.”
Even though IVA is helping to promote entrepreneurship and improve the efficiency of innovation systems, and although the situation in Sweden looks good in general, Carl Bennet would still like to see a lot of changes.
If he could decide, a major investment in education with an emphasis on teachers would be high up on the agenda.
“They should be able to spend their time teaching and not be bogged down with administration. They should get their authority back and their salaries should be raised by 50 percent. Then the teaching profession would once again attract the very best.”
He has already made clear his position that the Government’s research budget should be doubled over two terms of office.
“I would also like to see a proper investment in measuring quality in the care sector. This would be beneficial from both an ethical and a financial standpoint,” he says.
Photographer: Erik Cronberg