My upcoming book, The New Polymath due in June, has case studies on Kleiner Perkins, salesforce.com, Plantronics and plenty of discussions of Google, Apple and other Valley innovators. But it also showcases plenty of innovation in places in the rest of the globe.
Here are a few of the many examples across the book (and plenty more in book on Brazil, Israel, S. Korea and 30 more countries):
- Estonia, in a hurry to escape its communist detour, is one of the most “wired” countries in the world. It’s “Tiigrihüppe” (tiger leap) initiative provides a prototype of the digital life citizens in most other countries will achieve in a decade. More than 90% of bank transactions are conducted online. Tallinn (the capital)’s citizens pay for their parking tickets and their bus passes by sending text messages from their mobile phones. They elect their representatives from their home computers. Parliamentary and town hall debates are now recorded without producing any paper trail.
- Novosibirsk, capital of Siberia in Russia, is not the easiest place to attract talent, yet it has become an innovation hive for software and metallurgy. The ultimate compliment comes from an Intel executive—the company has facilities in the city—in a Fortune magazine article: “If you have something tough, give it to the Americans. If you have something difficult, give it to the Indians. If you have something impossible, give it to the Russians.”
- Rather, Hamilton aims to get these firms to locations such as Jonesboro, Arkansas. That is where his company, appropriately named Rural Sourcing Inc., has a team that services technology needs of clients including Stiefel Laboratories and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Rural Sourcing takes advantage of a community nurtured by the nearby Arkansas State University campus. It’s ideal, he says, “particularly for higher-touch, higher-collaboration work that requires more cognitive interaction.”
- Consider the new local expression: “I gave you a missed call.” It’s not bad grammar but a new expression Rajagopal Sukumar repeatedly heard when he returned from the United States to India. Most subscribers in India do not sign up for voicemail on their mobile phone service. The tacit expectation is that you will check your list of missed calls and call them back. This way you save on the monthly voicemail charge, and callers do not use up minutes leaving a message. Consumer ingenuity and provider flexibility through prepaid calling cards versus monthly charges has led to almost 400 million mobile subscribers in India. It’s been a remarkable turnaround led by new-age mobile carriers such as Reliance and Bharti in a country famous for decades of wait time to get landlines from state-run telecom companies.
- But the real excitement lies in Germany’s “Solar Valley” with companies like Q-Cells, now one of the largest manufacturers of solar cells in the world, and Enercon, which has installed 15,000 wind turbines around the world. These companies and several other start-ups have revitalized portions of what was East Germany, which had languished for years after the reunification. The solar and wind sectors employ about 125,000 people, according to the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.
- It seems odd given its location in oil-rich UAE, but Masdar is a 2.5-square-mile planned city with very lofty green goals. It will be carbon neutral and will recycle all its waste. No gas-powered vehicles will be allowed. Small, driverless electric vehicles will provide local transit. Tall buildings will shade most of the city to reduce the need for air conditioning. Wind turbines, solar arrays, and plenty of trees will keep this city of the future self-sustaining.
- “Personally, growing up in Africa, it is exciting for me to now see so much hope there. Just a few years ago it looked so bleak. The competitive talent landscape is changing so rapidly that their turn will come far sooner than I would have thought.” – Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant.
- Anne Katherine Petterøe is a keen linguist and has experienced many of these scripts firsthand in her travels around the world. The Norwegian consultant could write a book on “lost in translation”:
“When I studied Russian I brought along a Russian keyboard, but neglected to check it had both Cyrillic and Latin letters. Couldn’t find anything the first few days.
I have dealt with projects in China, where you have to adjust to double-byte characters. Made Cyrillic look easy!
When I lived in India I taught myself Hindi and a bit of Urdu. Hindi was sort of easy to learn writing because it is left-right, but Urdu, which like Arabic is written right-left, turned out to be a bigger struggle. I am right-handed and it felt like writing with the left hand to begin with.”