Just a decade ago, entrepreneurs were encouraged to embrace global ambitions, scale their businesses to international markets, tap foreign capital, and draw on diverse talent pools from across continents.
Today, an unpredictable geopolitical landscape is causing these same business leaders to take a different approach to global competition and consider how national security and domestic trade issues shape their strategic choices — all while leading a digital-first workforce coming out of the pandemic era.
“Science and technology advantage has become an incredibly powerful global geopolitical consideration,” said MIT Sloan professor
With wars being fought on land and online, countries are doubling down on wielding that advantage over adversaries and using it as “a bargaining chip amongst allies,” Murray said.
This summer, for example, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The legislation promised to boost U.S. semiconductor research, development, and production, rather than relying on Chinese companies for technology that’s in everything from household items to national defense systems. And in Australia, the 1941 Fund was created in the past year to invest in American and Australian businesses that address national security for both countries.
During a recent webinar presented by MIT Sloan and the Queensland University of Technology Business School, Murray and QUT professor Rob Perrons offered three insights for entrepreneurial companies addressing innovation among these challenges and changes.
Draw from local sources of talent but don’t dismiss collaboration
A leader’s mindset when balancing global innovation with national advantage depends on how ubiquitous or specific their company’s technology is, Murray said. Once that is established, leaders should think about if and how they draw on local talent and expertise for their companies.
“One of the great opportunities of diversity and inclusion is to make sure that we are including those people who are proximate to us in our regions and nations to be full participants in our innovative enterprises,” Murray said.
And when an organization — public or private — does turn more globally for talent and partnerships, collaborate with like-minded allies.
One of the pieces of advice Murray said she’s been giving those in government departments in the U.K., U.S., and Australia is to emphasize partnerships with open democratic societies and rebuild those alliances to strengthen science and technology whenever possible.
It’s never too early to have conversations about risk
Whether it’s a physical or political hazard to a supply chain, cybersecurity threats to infrastructure, or forewarnings of new political policies and regulations, it’s never too early to start thinking about geopolitical risks to innovation. But not every company has the luxury of a government affairs office or risk and compliance divisions, and most startups don’t even have the vocabulary for those types of discussions, Murray said.
That doesn’t mean startups should do nothing, nor does it mean established companies need to start reorienting all their supply chains. But it’s important for entrepreneurs to have conversations and recognize that these issues exist — particularly at a time when a global recession could spur companies to turn once again to a wide array of capital.
Murray urged companies to not outsource these conversations, but instead have their CEOs start them. Another option is having boards of directors help with shaping the discussion and drawing from their own expertise.
“I’m not trying to have everyone panic,” Murray said, but it’s important to be knowledgeable about issues like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the UK’s National Security Investment Act, or Australia’s foreign investment review framework, for example.
Innovation requires an in-person component
The increase in digital technologies and the shift to remote work has accelerated the online innovation process. But at its heart, innovation is about people sharing ideas, coming together, and “having these little bright spark moments,” said QUT’s Perrons.
That’s why some companies are “politely insisting that people get back to the office so they can get back to bumping into each other at the watercooler,” he said.
The challenge for tomorrow is leveraging digital tools while creating opportunities for the human aspect of innovation.
Perrons recommended things like regular offsites, or coffee dates between employees who’d normally be on opposite ends of the building during a regular office day, to recreate those watercooler interactions.
“Managing that tension and that balance, that is going to be an important part of the innovation enterprise moving forward,” he said.