Busting Common Myths About Innovation in Asia

With the startup life increasingly permeating pop culture through breakout screen successes like Silicon Valley and The Social Network, the masses are sitting up, taking notice and becoming very interested. The fascination with this exciting world grows with every story of limitless freedom, colourful offices and an inebriated acceptance of a structureless enterprise. The media portrayal of the Google dream, however, sets up a mythical one-dimensional take on the driving forces behind innovation and makes cookie-cutter stereotypes of the personalities that make startup culture whole. Busting through some of these myths can help to manage expectations, assuage fears and cement a more realistic image of the industry for startups and corporations alike. So, here are some common misconceptions about the innovation scene in Asia and how the startup game is actually played.

THE STARTUP LIFE IS A YOUNG MAN'S GAME

The seeds of innovation are omnipresent, and the streamlined thinking that innovation belongs to the kids is a surefire way to kill any climate of innovative thinking. People tend to assume that creativity dwindles with age. But while most older, wiser and more experienced people have probably dipped their toes into the corporate world, there's no evidence suggesting that being a late bloomer has any impact on innovation and creativity. In fact, the 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors and peak in their late 40s, and are the most productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, the professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan found that the average inventor sends in their patent application at age 47, with the oldest inventors peaking at 55.

INNOVATION TRANSPIRES FROM DEVELOPED ENVIRONMENTS

Nearly everything is wrong with this skewed perception. We live in a front-facing world, and most variants of success - startups included - are only credited in developed markets, despite being born on the back of innovation in emerging market environments like rural China and India. All innovation comes from problem solving, and developing nations - especially the poorer ones - are usually the source of difficulties and drawbacks. As a result, this births breakthrough innovations that potentially turn out to be global game-changers.

Take Gatorade for example - What is now one of the most popular sports beverages in the world, currently owned by Pepsi and sold in 80 countries worldwide, was once a local treatment for cholera in Bangladesh. Innovation sparked as research scientist and inventor Robert Cade realised that his brew was a fantastic way of replacing electrolytes lost during physical activity - Thus, Gatorade was born. The same applies to Swiss tech provider Logitech, who first tested the waters for their first wireless computer mouse in China, before expanding to Europe and the United States.

STARTUPS WERE BORN FROM THE MINDS OF IVY LEAGUERS

Though academic credentials continue to play a huge role in most Asian countries, the overemphasis on the link between paper smarts and innovation might be the biggest, and arguably the most inexact, stereotype. Akin to the fallacy that smart parents produce smart kids, the ability to merit innovation and success stems from an individual's aspirations and beliefs, not their graduate certificates.

It would also be prudent to point out that some of the world's most successful self-made innovators have succeeded without a college degree. Take Swedish business magnate Ingvar Kamprad for example - He founded IKEA with the cash reward his father gave him for making good grades in school despite being dyslexic, and started by selling small household items, like picture frames. He went on to revolutionise the furniture market with his fearless innovations, such as the new business model of 'flat packing', a self-assemblage process that has now become synonymous with the IKEA brand.

Just as Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, alluded: "Capital isn't so important in business, and neither is experience. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas - If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn't any limit to what you can do with your business and your life."  Likewise, innovation is intangible and shouldn't be limited to the likes of age, experience, paper qualifications or environment. Innovation is everywhere; all you need is a little faith, trust, and unequivocal passion for the craft.

Christina Oh