PEOPLE | Jul 10, 2019

Innovation as a journey: an interview with Roberto Panzarani

The professor of Innovation Management explains the need to build ecosystems of change to support the digital transformation of enterprises.

“The word innovation cannot be associated with technology alone. It is necessary to go to the heart of the problem and to view innovation as a process which, starting from the context analysis, helps to understand the need to transform and triggers a change in business models, in the organization and therefore in the skills of the people involved”. Roberto Panzarani, professor of “Innovation Management” at CRIE, Centro De Referencia Em Inteligencia Empresarial at the UFRJ, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and author of the recently published book A journey through innovation. Inside the ecosystems of change, he defines what is a misused word.

“It is necessary to help entrepreneurs, particularly small entrepreneurs, to develop the awareness that they need to innovate.”– adds Panzarani – “An awareness required not only by large businesses but also by very small shops which, for example, now have to deal with competitors they would never have imagined they could have up to a few years ago”.

Given the exponential speed with which changes occur and the difficulty of perceiving these, it is essential to study new models in good time and to put them into practice before businesses succumb. “Examples are needed – affirms Panzarani – and for this reason for years I have been suggesting actual innovation tours, visits to places where these ecosystems have been created, implemented and where they change the territories on which they were set up for the better. The book contains several best practices: from the very famous Silicon Valley to Chilecon Valley, from Israel Valley to the Indian city of Bangalore, from the Cambridge Science Park to the Science Park Berlin Adlershof, just to name a few. Chile, for example, after realizing that it cannot base its economy solely on the sale of raw materials, has invested in creativity and intellectual capital, providing funding for all start-ups in the world who wish to settle in the Country. This means building an ecosystem capable of supporting the innovation of a territory”.

Are there examples of Italian ecosystems?

“There are certainly Italian attempts, but they are timid and too few in number in relation to the size of the Country. There is no vision for the future, also because of the lack of competent spokespersons on the subject at a government level. Examples of places to visit, from which to take inspiration, are the innovation district of Kilometro Rosso, near Milan, H-Farm in Treviso or the Dallara Academy, which has seen the establishment of a motor valley to support training professionals in mechanical engineering by setting up masters and specialist degrees. Good examples, which show how the excellent Italian entrepreneurial skills can give life to local ecosystems and to a knock-on knowledge effect which produce benefits in the territories. We should focus on technology parks, strengthen the training which we have instead cut back on, to the great detriment of businesses, and focus on creativity and knowledge”.

How is it possible to involve small and medium sized companies, which today account for 98% of the Italian entrepreneurial fabric?

“Trade associations should work, above all, to ensure companies understand that lack of innovation means implosion. Instead, companies have what I call a cognitive loneliness, a sense of abandonment which affects both large and small entrepreneurs, who clearly feel that they cannot count on anyone to help them with change”.

At a government level, what measures could support the emergence of ecosystems of change?

“I must say that I have not seen particularly effective measures in recent years, as there has been a lack of both context analysis and of the ability to import or copy cases of excellence from other countries which have operated well in this area, such as Germany, Sweden or Estonia. There has been no overall strategy. The theme is to design the economy of the future, while today we have the perception of self-organization, in which every player of the possible ecosystem moves without a clear plan. And where until recently this type of attitude by the ruling class could limit growth, today it becomes devastating for the Country. We need to invest in creating work through innovation, not just in measures to support job shortages”.

What is the contribution of data to the growth of an innovation ecosystem?

Big Data should now be used normally and on a daily basis by public administrations and companies to make decisions, something which is not the case. We are still anchored to a mindset based on the concept of statistical data, reports, information to be analyzed which influences what we are about to do only relatively. This leads us to not exploit one of the greatest potentials of data: that of deciding in the best possible manner whilst perfectly knowing the context in which we operate. This does not mean we need a data scientist in every company, but simply to see the opportunity clearly and to gather information in order to be able to make the best decisions”.