Blocking Innovation – The Falafel Syndrome

December 30, 2009

I miss listening to ABC Radio in Australia; either some of the interesting conversations with Jon Faine or some of the Radio National programs but fortunately I can get RN on podcast, particularly All in the Mind.  But there is one somewhat similar program here on the Dubai Eye network called Business Breakfast which tends to focus on business news but does have some good interviews from time to time.

One that I caught recently was with the CEO of Innovation 360, Kamal Hassan.  He was talking about innovation in the Dubai and Arab region which was most interesting following the recent publication of the Arab Knowledge Report.  This report discussed the lack of regional innovation and entrepreneurship.  The CEO mentioned three factors which blocked the effective implementation of innovation;

  • Apathy – people are generally apathetic to trying out new ideas.  There are few local “heroes” that model innovation and new business development.
  • Search for Best Practice – there is a tendency to import best practices from outside the region.  In fact, he mentioned that the result is the opposite to “Not Invented Here”.  People actively look to replicate the successes from elsewhere which raises all the problems of context, culture and local environment.  Rather than trying new things out and seeing what works, people take the easier option of bringing in expertise from outside.  Classic complicated vs complex issues (Cynefin).  The apathy towards innovation means that “Not Invented Here” does not even register.
  • Falafel Syndrome – a great little metaphor for not being innovative.  He described someone setting up a falafel shop on a busy street and doing really well.  What tends to happen next is that someone else sees this success and sets up a similar falafel shop and does moderately well.  Others look to how these guys are faring and set up their own falafel shops on the same street which is all too much for the market and so they all become unprofitable.  There is insufficient thought towards establishing complementary shops like juice bars.  This metaphor furthers the cycle towards apathy as why bother being innovative when others will simply copy your business model.  The lack of effective intellectual property rights and copyright also means that many new initiatives lack good means of protection.