Jim Duffy: Time for Scotland to look ahead and innovate

Jim Duffy. Picture: submitted
Jim Duffy. Picture: submitted
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Jim Duffy of Entrepreneurial Spark says it is time to put the past behind us and make Scotland fit to be an innovative country

Scotland, I keep hearing, has a proud history of innovation and innovating. This notion, rather sadly but realistically, reminds me of the caveats that I used to read below the investment opportunities offered by mutual investment funds – “past performance is not a guarantee of future returns”.

We cannot keep living in the past, getting misty-eyed over penicillin and the steam engine. We can’t continue to kid ourselves that we have the best education system in the world, when, in fact, it’s average at best.

We cannot delude ourselves into believing that we can create a world-class economy based on tech and science when we are only scratching the surface with a few early wins.

To become an innovative society once again, that can truly compete globally, we need to change how we think – from: “If x…, then y....” to “If x…, can y?”

I would argue that as a nation we kill off innovative thinking in our young people as soon as they hit school. Innovation does not happen alone.

History is poor at painting how things really were as it designs solo champions and puts them on a pedestal when in fact the reality is that the success should have been shared by so many others who made contributions to the innovation along the way.

Innovation is a collective process. It happens over a period of time where “experiments” go wrong, throw up unexpected results and where predictions fall flat on their faces.

But, how we “teach” – and I use that term loosely – our children and young people to innovate has to be re-shaped and re-imagined.

This is exactly what we do at Entrepreneurial Spark, where we changed the way Scottish, and now UK, start-ups approach business model validation.

We focus on the mindsets and behaviors of an entrepreneur and seek to “build people who build businesses” – teaching innovation and empowering people to go out and take action.

Instead of predicting a small range of variables that might be thrown up as new products or services are introduced (if x…, then y), the early stage entrepreneur has to adopt a different mindset – an entrepreneurial method – whereby he or she is actually looking to be surprised, shocked or expects the unexpected (if x…, can y).

From this perspective and starting point, innovation can be used effectively during the highly unpredictable and chaotic start-up phase of a venture to maximise outcomes and iterate quickly – for both the novice and experienced entrepreneur alike.

I just love the mantra of “fail early to succeed sooner” and it is all part of the IDEO methodology where innovation takes place with groups of people.

The breakthroughs are incredible when teams get together and work on stuff. IDEO is world-renowned at human and design-centred innovation. The key here is the collaboration and the power of people focused on an issue.

Which brings me back to how we educate our children and “prepare” them for innovation.

Picture, if you will, an exam hall in a secondary school near you right now. Rigid rows of desks, invigilators, exam papers, silence and stop watches.

Individual students competing against each other with no collaboration, communication, shared outcomes and human interaction. And we wonder why we harp back to the good old days of Scotland being innovative.

Let’s challenge our policy makers, educators and each other to re-think innovation and instead of having it as a goal, have it at the heart of our education and foremost in our mindsets.

– Jim Duffy, Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.