Nederland - Duitsland

Innovation derby: Germany vs. the Netherlands

Today I read an article in the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad that compared the innovativeness of the Dutch economy to the German economy. According to research commissioned by the ‘Adviesraad voor Wetenschaps- en Technologiebeleid (AWT)’ the German economy is the most innovative economy of Europe. I find the underlying reasons that are mentioned in the article very interesting, so I want to share them with you.

First of all I found it astounding to read that Germany spends almost 3% of their national income on R&D, while the Netherlands doesn’t even reach 2%. That is a huge difference. Especially if you take into account that the German economy is more than 4 times as large as the Dutch (Source: Wikipedia). An important reason for the willingness of German managers to invest in research stems from the fact that Germany traditionally had a manufacturing industry. A big appreciation for technology is connected to that according to the AWT research. As a result a high percentage of German managers have a technical background and for them it is obvious you need to invest in research. You have to come with good arguments not to do so. In the Netherlands it is completely the other way around. According to the research the first question a typical Dutch manager asks is “what will it bring us financially?”. Apparently the Germans are more willing to take a leap of faith when it comes to innovation compared to the Dutch.

On a national level, the German Innovation policy uses mondial problems (or challenges) as a starting point. Where the Dutch so-called ‘topsector policy’ focuses on nine specific industries. The Dutch goverment wants to make the nine industries in which the Dutch excel worldwide, even stronger. To achieve that the government collaborates with companies, universities and research centers to increase knowledge and innovation within those industries. The German approach starts with the challenges that society faces and how these can be solved. So the government has not designated specific industries or technologies, but instead focuses on societal challenges like the environment, health and scarce resources. This approach stimulates interdisciplinary research; an aspect we have seen in our innovation projects with clients as a very important factor to success.

As the article mentions the Dutch government shouldn’t conclude that the topsector policy should be abandoned now. It is still too early according to the researchers to judge the Dutch strategy. However, this innovation derby between the neighbouring countries Germany and the Netherlands shows us that as an organisation you have to have the guts to really commit to innovation; dare to invest in innovation before you’ll reap the benefits. Next to that, focus on important challenges and attract groups with different backgrounds to tackle these challenges.


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