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Welcome to the New Lantern blog. Our goal is to shine light on leading innovators and creative artists, and how your business can learn and profit from them. Companies large, medium, and small can benefit from employees who think more creatively. New Lantern may be just the source of inspiration your company needs to spark more innovative products, services, and processes.

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Is the U.S. Losing the Innovation Game?

Posted by on April 20, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Business Week’s annual listing of “The 50 Most Innovative Companies” has just hit the newsstands (April 24, 2010 edition). On quick glance, you might not see a lot of surprises: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and IBM are at the top of the list, respectively.

Look a little closer and you might find an interesting trend — an increasingly strong showing of Asian companies that are now among the globe’s 50 most innovative.

As recently as 2006, only five Asian companies were on the list. This year there are 15. And if you think these companies from South Korea, Japan, China, and India are in the back of the pack, think again. Four Asian companies make up the top 10: Toyota, Sony, Samsung, and BYD – and two more are close behind, Tata and Nintendo.

Does this say more about the erosion of America’s innovation mojo or more about Asia’s laser-like focus in recent years on design and innovation? Unfortunately for Team America, it’s both.

A recent Boston Consulting Group survey of top global executives found that 95 percent of Chinese executives said that “innovation was the key to economic growth,” while only 45 percent of American CEOs point to innovation as key. No wonder the U.S. is slipping.

Innovation doesn’t come easy. You have to make it a priority and bake it into the company’s DNA. It has to be strongly encouraged from the top, and painstakingly nurtured in every part of the company.

Many American companies today seem to care more about meeting quota and getting the safe single, than swinging for the fences. These same corporate cultures tend to penalize unfettered creativity or a different way of thinking, while rewarding the employee who emulates the boss.

Those who know me know that I don’t know much about sports. But, I do know something about good coaching and getting results. If a coach is successful in persuading the team to play as if they are behind – even when they are still ahead — then that team will usually end up with more wins than losses.

Starting today, come up with your own “50 Most Innovative” within your company. Reward and spotlight those employees who take initiative, find ways to innovate, and appreciate design as much as function. Incentivize those employees who seek not to mimic the boss or other perceived successful colleagues, but who bring new talent and dimension to the team.

There’s still time enough left on the clock to turn your company’s innovation game around.