Hong Kong innovators

Hong Kong needs innovation, but it is more than just technology

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 11:13pm

Jeffrey Leckstein’s “Hong Kong must embrace innovation or risk irrelevance” (April 23) was a stirring call to arms, acknowledging that technology would play an increasingly important role in the future of the city’s banking and financial services industry.

Yet, Leckstein missed the underlying value of human exuberance and talent, which have made Hong Kong so unique and attractive in the first place.

American social critic Arthur Schlesinger once said, “Science and technology revolutionise our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” In spite of what advances might take place in the realm of science and technology, we will always remain rebelliously human.

One might argue that this is profoundly true in Hong Kong, where a pragmatic mindset rules and people are attracted to saving energy by making sense of things in the quickest, most efficient manner. Hong Kong residents have proved repeatedly reluctant to become early adopters of innovative technologies and would rather wait to assess success overseas.

Lack of innovation and incentives holding back Hong Kong from becoming a smart city

Is this abiding display of scepticism such a bad thing? After all, the technology doubters of Hong Kong would be sharing extremely good company with, for example, the likes of US economist Robert Merton Solow who once said: “I always thought that the main difference the computer made in my office was that before the computer my secretary used to work for me, and afterward I worked for my secretary.”

Hong Kong’s move into the digital fast lane has its risks

Solow’s scepticism reflects one view that the digital revolution would not generate as much economy-wide productivity improvements as the earlier industrial revolution. With weak productivity still afflicting such advanced economies as the UK, Solow possibly had a point.

When people talk about “innovation”, they invariably mean technology, thereby neglecting an overall, far richer picture.

At its core, innovation can be found within management practice, the arts and entertainment, architecture, the services, supply chains; it can be radical, “blue ocean”, frugal and sustainable – the list is colossal.

Today, if Hong Kong is to thrive, it will require local minds attuned to being innovative, as expressed by creativity, experimentation and risk-taking in all manner of endeavours.

Technology is intoxicating, but it is not a panacea.

John Mullins, associate professor, management practice, London Business School