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Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D.

John, I arrived here after reading your article for the McKinsey Quarterly in '05. Even though my work of educating visual fine artists on innovative ways to put their work in the world successfully seems out on the stratospheric edges of yours, I was most struck by two of your ideas.

1. How innovation is a more expansive universe than our traditional Western mind set, which hyper focuses on new products.

2. The core power of specialization is a dynamic phenomenon of increased capabilities.

Given that confidence and self-esteem have been strongly correlated to competence (not compliments), looks like the Third World may be getting benefits beyond the obvious when it comes to reverse innovation/blowback.


I am new to this site, and welcome the ideas in this post and the terminology "reverse innovation". I have blogged about this idea - but did not have the terminology - http://www.dadamac.net/blog/20091015/pam-we-want-street-lights

The blog relates to my experiences in rural Nigeria and back home in the UK. I believe it is harder to introduce new solutions to problems where the old solutions still seem to be working okay (such as in the UK)and therefore there is more opportunity to explore innovative solutions where the old solutions have not yet been implemented (such as rural Africa).

I believe there are huge potential benefits to be gained if "developed world" designers and developers see people in rural Africa as collaborators and consultants. I invite anyone who takes this idea seriously to contact me [email protected] to explore how http://www.Dadamac.net can help you to access the local knowledge that you need, through our networks and well developed communication systems - including weekly online UK-Nigeria meetings.

David Locke

The problem with the glocal approach is that companies outside the U.S. can do that, big fortune 500 companies can do that, but neither is going to contribute much to the current economy. All that is happening is that commodities are being innovated, but not enough to create new wealth, capture more cash sure, but not creating new wealth.

All companies need to innovate. The glocal approach is beyond the reach of most of them. Discontinuous innovation is within the grasp of all companies, as it can be done locally.


This paean to innovation in developing economies doesn't seem to fit with what I know about Indian businesses.

They're nepotistic. Of course the sons must be hired; all of them must have "cabins" (posts) and preferably their own divisions to run.

They're inefficient. Frex, textile mills are extraordinarily inefficient by current Western standards. Workers see their jobs as sinecures, which they then sub-contract to untrained workers who will work for less.

They have poor quality control (DVDs that self-destruct within months, clothing that is cheaply and badly constructed).

They tend to have predatory attitudes towards customers with whom they feel no personal connection. Most of my online interactions with Indian firms have ended unhappily. Once they've got my money, they don't care whether or not I'm happy with the goods or the purchasing experience. It's as if they're writing off repeat business.

I'm looking forward to seeing a Bollywood movie called "Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year", which has been reviewed as a critique of Indian business practices.


Another note that Harvard Professor Carliss Baldwin and MIT Professor Eric von Hipple have released a paper that is closely related to your post. I highly recommend it.



Hello, "institutional innovations" is so well defined and pertinent to the work we are doing. I had to change our blog header to incorporate it.



Thanks for the great post, John.
Speaking as someone who moved to Latin America 15 years ago, I've been a big fan of your (John) ideas for quite a while. Although I think Asia and other emerging markets recognize their opportunity more than most in Latin America, I've been trying to get people down here to understand the possibilities for disruption. Several months back, I wrote a piece (in Spanish) for the "Colombian BusinessWeek" magazine about John's comments on the Shift Index: http://su.pr/1xU9SH

Patty Seybold

I love your two examples--of glocal innovation and of institutional innovation. Here's an example of Blowback--an innovation from the bottom of the pyramid that hasn't yet been noticed or adopted by institutions in developed countries--At Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT.net)12 to 18-year old girls are increasing the incomes of their families and villages by teaching their families new skills. Family income increases 20% while the families carry out "Back Home" projects while the girls are away at boarding school. The Girls are graded on the success of their families. This is just one of many innovations this group in rural western Uganda has come up with. See http://www.psgroup.com/research_936.aspx for more...

Keep up the great thinking!



Hello John

Truly interesting article, I had not read your previous HBR one.

Having lived for some time in Asia, I have to say your views totally match previous feelings (more than explicit thoughts).

Today, I feel there is ground for institutional innovation also in developed economies, if only leadership mindset would change and accept the social/technological tsunami under way (today, it is mostly FB or twitter, but those are only premises) as an opportunity to rethink business.

Thanks for this idea.




This mirrors Paul Romer's insights on "new rules for new cities", well made in his recent TED Talk on Charter Cities.

In contrast to Paul Romer's thesis that developed countries will be the best partners in launching a new generation of free economic zones, my guess is that Singapore, China, South Korea, and perhaps Dubai will be at the forefront of introducing innovative institutional and policy reforms in areas afflicted with poor governance. Land value gains of 10x and more can happen through success-sharing partnerships that bring high trust business climates and transparency to greenfield sites. These asset gains can be used to fund a range of initiatives (e.g. microfinance and microvouchers for eLearning and eHealthcare) that do a far better job in awakening human capital than top-down Western aid programs have done.

Rather than focus on hard power competition with the West, Asia's rising giants may well project "soft power" - through partnerships that spread proven systems (including eGov) to new proving ground areas that will replicate the success of their freeports and Special Economic Zones.

A new (Asia-originated) global Hanseatic League - as foreseen by SRI's Bill Miller - may well be one of the legacies of the West's turn towards hard power.


Mark Frazier
@openworld @buildership @peerlearning (twitter)

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