Innovation in Industry: a Factor for Growth

July 1969

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Over  the  past  few  years  there  has  been  a  growing  concern  with Britain’s record of industrial innovation based upon technology.  This stems from two factors.  Firstly, it is increasingly appreciated that the UK’s  success,  if  not  survival,  as  a  trading  nation  depends  upon  its ability  to  produce  and  sell  new  products  which  are  more  advanced, more  efficient,  or  of  better  design  than  those  of  our  competitors  in world markets.  Secondly, it is clear that  the  U K ’s  achievement  in successfully marketing  new  products,  whether at  home  or  abroad,  is unsatisfactory relative to  that of other  leading  industrial  nations;  yet our  research  and  development  -  the  important  first  stage  of  the innovative process - is  o f a  scale  which  is  only exceeded  by the  USA and USSR.

This concern has been reflected in the growing discussion in press, journals, and conferences of the numerous aspects of innovation. Many different factors have been put forward as reasons for the UK’s poor record (some of these are shown in Table 1).  In mid-1968 many of the conclusions reached were summarized in a report of the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology.

Yet  despite  this  wide  discussion  it  is  still  too  often  unclear just how  the  climate  for  advance  can  be  improved.  There  is  insufficient  information  in  adequate  detail  to  explain  why  a  handful  of  British companies has been so successful  as innovators, while British industry as  a  whole  has  such  a  disappointing  record.  Generalised remedies have been put forward in plenty; but, by and large, these lack weight due  to  a  shortage  of  hard,  descriptive  case-study  or  statistical information  to  support them.

This shortage of information is paralleled by insufficient awareness  in  many  government,  public  and  industrial  sectors  that technological  innovation is a special process and cannot adequately be understood  by  applying  principles  which  relate  to  ‘traditional  firms in conditions of static technology.