Great minds and novel ideas are certainly important when it comes to the ability to innovate, but according to one study, there’s another key factor that we tend to overlook: culture. The right one can provide the perfect environment to foster new ideas, the wrong one can suck them down the drain.
So which cultures lend themselves to innovation?
According to research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, both individualistic and patriotic cultures tend to breed innovation. After examining 20 years worth of data on 62 different countries, researchers found that individualism consistently had a strong, positive effect on innovation. But individual-centered cultures weren’t the only ones to breed success: certain types of collectivist cultures, like those with strong attitudes of patriotism and nationalism, also fared well on the advancement scale.
In cultures that place a premium on individuality, such as the U.S., the drive to innovate is closely linked to the personal rewards that might be reaped following the success of a new product or invention. One look towards Silicon Valley with its seemingly constant stream of millionaires and it’s not hard to see why so many people strive to create something new in America.
But some types of collectivist cultures enjoy equally high rates of innovation for completely different reasons.
"Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan are all examples of national cultures which rank as both highly institutional collective and highly innovative," said Mark "Zak" Taylor, assistant professor of international affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Such countries have people who often value loyalty to a corporation, university or nation far more than local "tribes" or themselves as individuals. Their willingness to sacrifice at the expense of the individual allows their societies "to take the risks and make the hard sacrifices to innovate," Taylor said.
Researchers note that not all collectivist cultures encourage technological advancement, however. “Tribal” cultures, like those found in the Philippines, India and Mexico, have a negative impact on innovation. These collectivist cultures emphasize loyalty not to the state or country, but to family and friends.
For the full study, which was published in the March issue of the Journal of Business Venturing, click here.
Photo: Shawn Collins/Flickr