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Innovation: Key to great leadership

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I wisdom dwell with prudence and find out knowledge of witty inventions (Proverbs 8:12)

The 2015/2016 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked Switzerland, Finland, Israel, USA, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark as the 10 most innovative countries in the world. Interestingly, these countries also happen to be among the richest. According to Soumitra Dutta, editor of a similar report carried out by INSEAD, “Innovation results today still remain fairly highly correlated with income levels.” In other words, the difference between the richer, high-income economies and the poorer ones is innovation.

Nothing determines a country’s level of productivity better than the strength of its ideas and the skill composition of its labour force. That is why a country like Singapore, with limited natural resources but an innovative population, can outperform a country like Venezuela with 211 billion barrels of oil.

The ideas generated and implemented by people have been the key drivers of organisational or national growth, all through history. This is why the most successful entities in the world, nations or organisations, are those who are able to unleash the creativity of their populace; this is a strong indices of leadership effectiveness. It was Steve Jobs who said, “Innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower.” And innovative leaders will always produce innovative followers.

Fostering a culture of innovation then will require an adequate human capital development programme. The East Asians are good example. What has become known as the East Asian Miracle is largely attributed to sustained investment in human capital development. These nations did not require foreign aid or vast amounts of finite natural resources to become economic powerhouses. They simply came to terms with the importance, and potential, of human creativity and invested heavily in educating their people. The transformation of Japan from a historically feudal nation to a modern state is the result of robust educational reforms. It was investment in education that raised the productivity of small farmers in South Korea and reduced levels of absolute poverty. The correlation is also extremely high between expenditures on education and GDP per capita in China.

In addition to investment in quality education is the need to create an enabling environment for innovation. Creativity is not the preserve of a few. Everyone, given the right conditions, can produce and convert ideas into valuable products and services. The truth is that innovation is most likely to flourish in the face of adequate infrastructure, protection of intellectual property rights, and access to quality education and healthcare.

For Nigeria, and the rest of Africa, there is just no other option of reaching our potential. There has to be a rearrangement of our priorities. Without putting pressure on the system and current leadership, this is something of utmost importance. The key to the Nigeria of our dreams is locked in the minds of the millions of young Nigerians out there, both female and male. We have all it takes to create an environment that challenges the creativity of over 160 million of us. We have to remove the roadblocks; revamp our educational system as a matter of priority, implement intellectual property rights a little more seriously, dismantle the bottlenecks that attend registration of new ventures and empower the financial system to make risk-taking a little less scary.

The greatest legacy leadership at every level can leave, is to arm the present, and particularly the coming generations, with the tools they need to compete in a world-changing at the speed of innovation.

Nigeria Has A Great Future


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