This article originally appeared on on January 10, 2018
By Kumar Mehta

There are approximately 35 countries with a population range of 1-5mn people (the population of Oman is approximately 4.5mn).

There are also approximately 35 countries with populations greater than 40mn people. This latter set of countries control the world’s innovation. They spend the most on R&D and they have the biggest impact on the new products used around the world. Most innovation in the world comes from countries like the US, Germany, South Korea, Japan and other big countries with massive R&D investments both in the public and private sector.

Can small countries innovate at a pace that keeps up with the larger ones? What will it take for a country with a smaller GDP to come up with ground breaking innovation?

Using the latest principles of innovation science, any country can become a leader in global innovation. Innovation is no longer the sole domain of larger countries spending vast amounts of money. A small country developing breakthroughs is no different than a startup developing breakthroughs, despite larger companies far outspending them on R&D.

This is because innovation is becoming increasingly democra-tised, by this I mean that it is more easily accessible to everyone than ever before. The costs of innovation have come down considerably. Every component required for an innovation – whether it be materials, skills, software, know-how, manufacturing, or anything else – is usually available at a reasonable cost somewhere in the world. As a result, the ability to innovate is increasingly within everyone’s reach, and organisations and individuals can take advantage of this opportunity to create new innovations quickly and inexpensively. The value is no longer in the components that are sourced; it is in the experiences created.

Creating innovation through altering experiences can be done by everyone, regardless of size and investment. It is done simply by enhancing experiences using widely available know-how and technology. It is through the creative connection of available components.

Take the iPhone for example. Most of the components and technologies that made the iPhone special (the touch screen, GPS technology, a full web browser, Internet technology, etc) were available for everybody to use. The true genius behind this product was putting together these components into a beautiful package that consumers lined up to buy. The same is true with popular ride sharing services like Uber, which put together existing and broadly available components like mobile technology, vehicle ownership, driver availability, consumers’ latent need to have a better experience and GPS technology into services that have altered the lives of millions and transformed transportation.

Experiential innovation is how a small country can make a big impact on the world. Experiential innovation focuses on using existing knowledge to create new experiences. It is not about pushing the boundaries of science through vast R&D initiatives. It is about using available components to create experiences that change the world. These may not be brand-new inventions; instead they brand new experiences created by repurposing existing inventions and functionality. Examples include commercial aviation (not the invention of the airplane itself, but the use of airplanes to transport millions of people every day), online shopping (not the invention of the Internet but its use as the world’s largest shopping mall), as well as the iPhone, and Uber, as we just discussed. Experiential innovation is not about making a better phone or camera, but about the new experiences that are created when the two are in a single device. Each of these offerings has transformed the lives of millions by synthesizing existing (already invented) capabilities and technology to achieve the transformation.

Smaller countries need to encourage the development of experiential innovation capabilities because whoever becomes good at this is best positioned to consistently release one great innovation after another. Building this capability is not related to size, and smaller countries need to deploy this capability in order to use innovation as a competitive advantage that can enhance their own economies by creating offerings the world is thirsting for.

The goal for experiential innovation is to take a current experience and develop a radical improvement to it. Think of this as a tenfold improvement, not a ten per cent improvement. About a century ago, auto industry pioneer Henry Ford’s innovation, the assembly line, reduced the time to manufacture a car from over twelve hours to under two hours, and his factory went from producing a hundred cars a day to a thousand cars a day. This is an example of the impact we should be looking for and can bring about by experiential innovation.

The tools required for experiential innovation are slightly different from those required for other types of innovation. Experiential innovation requires a deep understanding of the domain you are innovating in, as well as associated developments in parallel domains that you can use; it requires the ability to synthesize available knowledge and know-how and a clear understanding of the experience journey you are trying to alter. Through this capability, you will be able to develop a world-changing experience using and synthesizing available technology and knowledge.

Always start with how you can enhance experiences rather than focus on the development of the innovation itself. For example, when thinking about being a leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI), you will be best served by focusing on specific experiences that AI can enhance, rather than solely on the technology itself.

Size does not have to be an impediment to innovation. It can be an advantage. With innovation being democratized, whoever masters the ability to alter experiences, drives the next wave of innovation.