What we can learn from Denmark

Dear Innovation Enthusiast,

I’m writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, where I am teaching in Danish Technical University’s Certificate in Entrepreneurial Leadership” program.  This is the fourth class for this program. It’s designed for project team leaders who are trying to develop new businesses for their companies based on gamechanging sorts of innovation, where, as you know, ambiguity is high and the risk levels aren’t so pretty.

It’s rewarding to be here teaching, watching these companies adopt the concepts of an innovation management system and adopting approaches like the Learning Plan to drive organic growth through innovation. Denmark is a remarkable country due to its unrelenting focus on innovation. And they’re having their impact in certain industries such as enzymatic processes, oil recovery, biofuels, and cleantech in general.

But I have to ask myself…is the US keeping pace? While Danish companies appear to embrace the latest management practices and learning for developing an innovation competency, what are US companies doing? Trying, flailing about. Putting “innovation” VP’s in place. But how are they learning? Where are the networking communities they turn to for support? How are they gauging best practice, and, indeed, the latest news on how to develop a fully functional innovation capability?

If we ever needed strong innovation functions in our companies, the time is now. With financial markets falling apart, it’s only through strong fundamentals that companies will be able to grow. By fundamentals I mean offering wholly new to the world offerings that provide orders of magnitude differences in how we solve problems of today.

So, how are you progressing on your journey of building an innovation capability in your company? I mean one with staying power. One that delivers. Not the ‘program du jour’ sort of thing that we all greet with cynicism these days.

Held og lykke,


  1. Hi Gina,

    As a Dane and as the founder of INTRAP, which is a network for people working on the intersection of leadership and innovation, I agree that we do pretty well on innovation networks and programs in Denmark.

    Compared to American companies, I also find Danish companies to be very good at developing organizational innovation capabilities where as American companies could teach us a lot on go-to-market strategies.

    I travel frequently to Silicon Valley and I experience a growing interest in peer-to-peer networks for innovation leaders and in programs such as the CEL you are teaching at. I have also heard that the CEL program might be exported to Stanford. That could be interesting!

    We can learn from each other and I hope this flow of people teaching across continents and the exchange of ideas and processes keep growing. You and your colleagues definitely have an important role to play here as “information brokers” so I hope you will keep up the good work and your interest in our country.

    Best regards,

    Stefan Lindegaard
    Leadership+Innovation community on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/54595


  2. Hi Stefan,

    Thank you for your comment and post on the Intrap blog .

    I agree that learning across countries is key, and so is learning across companies, as you note in your observation about corporate innovation leaders’ searches for peer to peer networks on innovation. We, too, have sponsored these as part of our research program several years ago. The participants told us they were like ‘check-ups’ and ‘therapy sessions..’ all meant in the best sense of the words! When we are creating a brand new discipline, as I believe we are, learning together and learning from one another is clearly the path to efficiency, but it’s also important to have a support network.

    I’ve heard of your networks in Denmark. I’m also aware of such networks developing out of Imperial College in the UK and in other countries. Yet another very dramatic cue that innovation as an emerging business discipline is here to stay. See also our recent suite of “I&CE” (Innovation and Corporate Entrepreneurship) programs for companies.

    The next challenge is how to evolve business school curricula to appropriately educate young professionals. Your post on characteristics of corporate entrepreneurs is very interesting in this respect.



  3. Interesting observation Gina,
    I am thinking their may be some cultural attributes of the Dutch that make them more willing to embrace advances in innovation management.
    The interesting story of the total quality movement shows a similar cultural mechanism at play. W. Edwards Deming & Joseph M. Juran tried very hard to introduce the total quality movement in the USA but it did not seem to be adopted. Then in 1950 they were appointed as seminar consultants tasked with educating Japanese executives in TQM. The Japanese culture with attributes of fanatical attention to detail and collectivism took wildly to this new movement. By 1960, 20,000 engineers were trained in SQC methods in Japan.
    Gina, I was wondering if you knew of any cultural attributes which make the Dutch more willing to adopt new innovation management practices?


    Brian Glassman
    Innovation Management


  4. Hi Gina

    Comming from Denmark and during the 10 years period after education as Mechanical engineer, where I have been working with R&D and innovation in the same company, I have now spend the last 1 year in China working with Innovation as R&D Manager. I agree with your observations. I was aware before that we in Denmark approach innovation pragmatic and holistic, which gives the creativity but also the implementation as cross functional teamwork is one of Denmarks assests in general, at least in my point of view, and the base is comming all the way from Kindergarten through school, college and university, all the way through there is an essential respect and nursing around “diversity”.
    Spending one year now in China, I realize that this asset is much more valuable than I percieved it when it was just around the corner, stressing that I actually found it essential before I left Denmark. Getting away from it have just made it even more valuable for me.
    When this is mentioned, I still see the value of utilizing dirversity in everyday life in the organisations, in workshops or through networks also when when applied outside the border of Denmark. The diversity just grow and with that opportunities follows.

    So, Gina. As a Dane I also learn a lot beeing away from Denmark.

    Kind Regards
    Jimm Feldborg


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