The Natural Resistance: What South America might be doing wrong besides misusing the term innovation?

Industrial Worker at a Refinery
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We can see the rapid development of South America making the headlines of worldwide news. We hear the word innovation everywhere as if it was part of a cross-country standard. We are pieces in a puzzle that are expected to fit in a growing manipulated image, which sells an inflated

We can see the rapid development of South America making the headlines of worldwide news. We hear the word innovation everywhere as if it was part of a cross-country standard. We are pieces in a puzzle that are expected to fit in a growing manipulated image, which sells an inflated view of the real landscape of innovation in the tropic. As Latin Americans we feel the immediate protective instinct to counteract decades of bad publicity convincing ourselves, and others, that innovation is rooted in our costumes and therefore runs in every activity we do. Reality is a different story, and I for one, have been thinking why.

 

The view is quite easy to describe. Chile leads the way through a National Agency exclusively dedicated to the discipline and Brazil has established an ongoing interest towards R&D that has been successfully implemented and has crossed frontiers and continents. But yet, when you reach out to traditional companies elsewhere, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina show little commitment to developing integral strategies that take on international markets as ecosystems to be studied and innovated from. Design, paradoxically enough, also has a very low perceived low and it is disregarded as a genuine requirement and integral part of services and products.

 

To understand this, we might not have to go very far. As republics and comprehensive regimes, Latin America consists of a group of young countries that, however, count on natural resources and convenient territorial conditions. Our history goes as far as two centuries, time in which political unrest and violence has been part of our lives to the point of adaptation. We have learned to protect ourselves for generations, spare whatever is not essential by re-defining the term, lower all risks to survive and look for the lowest prices during the fat years for the lean years to come. We do not know how to cope as societies with wealth and growing inequality, so naturally most people stick to the tradition of the “third-world country”.

 

In common people’s behaviour these measures are deeply ingrained. Most people would not pay a higher price for design; most companies would not change their ways to include design as a variable. But in spite of these conditions, the press is frequently flooded with “innovative proposals” and the word innovation has become an everyday word for a never-ending denial.

 

Here we can see a most contradictory trend. From a historical point of view that denied the importance of risk, we have crossed to the dark side of managing resources as if risk didn’t exist at all.

 

I can talk about the case of Colombia. It is often that we hear oil reserves are running out, but people really mean that easy oil will be soon drained and more difficult resource-depleting oil will be the only available one. For some countries in the western world it means adaptation and preparations, but for the main oil company in the country, it means that we don’t have to worry in any way. However, they feel that their R&D, used only in oil processing and fuel quality, must be called innovation.

 

My point of view is that to truly innovate it is necessary to have a vision. This company clearly does not exhibit any close to that. But then again, is that the real reason for our failure to keep up with the innovation imperative of most markets? Is the issue with South America the abundance of words and the lack of vision for our changed reality?

 

It might be.