13 September 2005

Stumbling Block to Innovation in NL Identified

In an interview in The Telegraf (Dutch newspaper), the Swedish professor Kjell Nordström called The Netherlands on the carpet for its poor economic performance. He points out that the Dutch national motto - "doe maar gewoon...", which I'll loosely translate here into "don't stand out, or over-do it" - has been disastrous for economic growth. He says that this kind of mentality leads to the normalization of all citizens, and that this is deadly for innovation.

Nordström recommends making room for, and rewarding, the crazier ideas. "Prosperity comes through innovation. Innovation comes from unconventional people, often called weirdos."

Nordström, Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, has co-authored a couple of management books - Karaoke Capitalism: Daring to be Different in a Copy-Cat World and Funky Business. I think he also brought out an illustrated edition of Karaoke Capitalism: Management for Mankind, published by the Financial Times. Just enjoy a quick read through the reviews.

Wow! Many performance-driven expats living here have been complaining about this for years. Personally, I think this motto has created a nation of workers who have used it to only look at efficiency from an ant's perspective, punish any efforts toward excellence, as an excuse for lack of customer service, and to create a community of people who have an "entitlement" attitude. Those creative or inventive spirits here have often felt overwhelmed by this normalcy syndrone. It means that you have to color inside the lines in the same coloring book as everyone else. If you start with a blank sheet of paper, they take it away and give you the book with a lecture. My own experience here has often provoked the comment "Why do you want to disturb everything. It's fine. Leave it alone. Nobody works like that here." And, I was in a creative industry.

Here in The Netherlands, we keep trying to demonstrate that innovation is playful. We go to all the "innovation platform" events to open a new kind of dialogue and address the issues like this. Unfortunately, they are deaf to us, ripe with "subsidized" mentality, and rarely making room for the contributions from more exotic types called "strangers". They keep telling us they have a system, and we just don't understand or fit. It takes too much effort to deal with something that does not fit in the system. But, that is exactly what is required to trigger innovation.

Innovation could come alive here if Dutch culture would just create the space for it to happen. It requires a little bit of effort and a willingness to include the strange and wonderful. Look at some of those strange and wonderful innovators in the world, like Einstein, Picasso, John Nash, Walt Disney, Bill Gates. They did not do it alone, but they certainly led the category development.

Perhaps now, having this mirror held up, and also having it reflected in an international arena as the reason for poor economic performance, this will help open the Dutch minds and create even just a wee bit of space for experimentation here. Who knows - it might even deliver surprises with great value attached...and also be fun doing it all together, including the strange and wonderful.

Many thanks to Peter Luiks for bringing this article to my attention.

Source: zibb.nl/De Telegraaf
Auteur: Michiel de Visser

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