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Newsrooms Should Heed Finland Innovation Advice

Finland is tiny and it has to figure out how to compete with giant countries that have many more resources to produce the likes of Google and other primary new technologies. The answer, according to a research paper Innovation, Journalism and the Future: Final report of the research project Innovation Journalism in Finland, is to capitalize on the new technologies rather than try to develop its own. It’s probably a smart lesson for news organizations too. My favorite example is the telephone. Someone made money from inventing the telephone, others made money redesigning various incarnations of telephones and lot more people made money by using the telephone. Furthermore, once-new technologies like electricity continue to be adapted for newer uses all these years later. Thus the paper authors Erkki Kauhanen and Elina Noppari write :

…it is probably possible to drive a vibrant innovation economy without being a leading primary producer of any new technology. If you are fast and good at adopting and applying technologies, you can take part in the much more voluminous processes of looking for the technological complementarities, commercializing them and boosting productivity in general through their wide use. This is one possible strategy. It has certain disadvantages compared to being the primary producer, but on the other hand it may be more realistically attainable, as producing novel technologies is very expensive and risky. It is especially risky if your resources are relatively small and you have to put a disproportionate share of the eggs in the same basket in a wild-goose chase after a global leading role that you cannot attain or retain in the long run anyway.

The opportunities abound because as the authors point out:

Electricity is the prime example…that has made possible a huge number of goods that have gradually replaced old pre-electricity technology. The process has taken more than a century and is not yet complete. There are still tools and appliances that in principle could be made electric.

Now here is the key part to remember:

A similar process is currently happening with the microprocessors.

So we are are the beginning of the microprocessors revolution. That’s exciting; however, as newsroom are learning, this might not be an easy time because:

…historical analyses of technological complementarities show that they do not automatically produce rapid increases in productivity…Sometimes it takes decades, even centuries for a new technology to show its whole potential. Often in the early phase an innovation may even decrease productivity due to the cost of the learning process and various glitches of juvenile technology. In times of technological transformation, network effects and synergies based on old technologies are vanishing and the network effects that ultimately will be built on the new technology are not yet there. Sometimes a new technology will not increase productivity at all. Yet it may still be useful in the long run because of the various new paths that it opens for technological development.

The authors argue that the key to success in tiny countries like Finland, and I would argue for news organizations that don’t have the R&D clout of the Googles, Apples and Microsofts, is to develop a culture that knows how to use and adapt new innovations. They write:

it may be that the most innovative societies in the future are not the ones where the biggest percentage of population has a university degree or participate in primary technology development but those where creating innovative ideas and commercializing them is inbred in all organizations and is facilitated by powerful support structures that help in the difficult phase of the commercialization of the idea. To misquote Richard Baldwin slightly (but in the same spirit, we hope): It may be more important for our children to learn how to innovate with any technology than it is for them to learn and develop some particular technology.

Finally for all this to work:

Citizens are seen not only as consumers or workers but co-innovators and co-producers of the knowledge and knowhow that compromises innovation.

If you go to this paper be forewarned that although it has information like that from above, it is really about “innovation journalism” which is an emerging field of journalism that covers innovation.

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