FOREWORD

Dear readers,

In this issue of Aspen Review Central Europe we present a series of articles about innovation reflecting from various perspectives a narrative about innovation in our region. Is not a discourse about innovation policy too detached from facts? By innovation we mean a process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods, translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value and better satisfies the needs and expectations of the customers. Is innovation a panacea? Or is it just a necessity since the rhythm of technological change has sped up in recent decades?

A narrative of adaptation to changes has become a standard equipment of politicians and managers. Innovation has become a buzzword to solve the complex issues of contemporary world. Recent technological advancements mean huge empowerment of individuals, which is not only for good. There is obviously a dark side of innovation as well.

Adapting to current challenges would not be possible without innovative approach that would provide a policy framework and management methods conducive to unleashing—or at least not inhibiting— creative potential of the society. Alas, sheer talking about innovation rarely correlates with creativity and spirit of entrepreneurship. Let us face it: a majority of people in the region—as citizens or as employees—is tired of constant adaptation to reforms and novelties imposed from above. On the other hand, innovation requires risk-taking, whereas the pervasive mood in the society is still risk-aversive. The innovation-driven model of growth requires reducing risk-aversion atmosphere within education system and better cooperation between universities and business. Risk-takers benefit from open borders and opportunities in more dynamic corners of common market.

Few years ago I took part in The High Level Reflection Group producing a report “Central Europe—Fit For Future” (2014). In our debates we realized that countries in the region have shown considerable level of the capacity for social and political innovation that helped them deal with the financial and economic crisis more successfully than Southern Europe or even some countries of Northern Europe. Our report advocated concrete steps and measures to move the region towards an innovation-driven model of growth: “We need to refashion our growth model, with a dramatic enhancement of our global competitiveness and innovation capacity.“ And yes, there are examples—islands of excellence in the region. As the report states, “some Central European cities are humming with creativity, celebrating the local talent and providing an ecosystem conducive for innovation.” Some facts mentioned in Martin Ehl’s article validate this optimistic statement.

There are two broad categories of innovation: evolutionary innovations are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes, whereas revolutionary innovations are discontinuous and often disruptive. Along these lines, Philipp Staab’s article “The Rise of Digital Capitalism” analyses two ways of digitalization—one focused on “rationalization of consumption,” another focused on modernizing production. He shows how “disruptive innovations” entailed in digital platforms bring about a revolutionary change of existing business models.

What kind of criteria do investors consider in choosing in which country to incubate an innovative business based on research? When it comes to proximity to innovation partners, access to markets, and access to talent, Central Europe performs quite well. Nevertheless, in order to feature as a preferred location for innovative investment our region needs to improve quality and consistency of regulation. A fear of unexpected changes of national regulations has a negative impact on potential innovation successes. Demand-driven innovation policy is based on open participative ecosystem allowing for creation of alliances or joint ventures, empowering the employees, encouraging their freedom of thought and action.

Only in a system that rewards innovators is innovative thinking encouraged and hard work vindicated. Our region also needs to develop a new generation of digital infrastructure that would pull down geographic barriers and decrease transaction costs between partners.

To keep Central Europe competitive and to support the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation remains one of the key goals of Aspen Institute Prague’s activities.

Beyond the cover issue of innovation, we could not leave unnoticed other current topics. I hope pieces published here will not only shed some light on the US presidential campaign, Brexit, migration, or recent developments in Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, but also provoke thinking from new perspectives. Stay tuned for our future events and the next issue!

Jiří Schneider

Jiří Schneider entered public life after democratic changes in 1989 when he was elected to the Czechoslovak Parliament (Federal Assembly) in 1990 and 1992. In 1993 he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held various positions at the Czech diplomatic service. Most prominently he served as Ambassador to Israel (1995-1998) and First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (2010-2014).

 

Jiří Schneider graduated at The Czech Technical University (ČVUT) and obtained a Diploma in Religious Studies from University of Cambridge. From 2000 to 2009 he lectured on security studies, international relations, public policy, and the role of think tanks in Central Europe at Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, and New York University in Prague. During the International Policy Fellowship at the Central European University in Budapest he published on Think Tanks in Visegrad Countries (2003) and Lobbying and Interest Representation (2007). He was closely associated with the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), a leading Czech security think tank, as a Program Director (2005-2010) and most recently as a Senior Fellow and Director of Special Projects (2014-2015).

 

Jiří’s engagement with Aspen dates back to the early 90ʼs when he was a fellow of Aspen Institute Germany. More recently he supported the establishment of Aspen Institute Prague and served as a member of its Supervisory Board from 2011 to 2014.

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