Complacency Kills Innovation

A past article in the Wall Street Journal by John Gapper, “Norway’s oil wealth swamps innovation” provides an excellent example of how complacency can kill innovation. Gapper outlined how oil wealth has created a country that has lacked true national crisis. Due to affluence from oil, Norway has a gross domestic product per individual of $75,000, just behind Switzerland (the top GDP country in the world). The oil-funded wealth has resulted in limited shocks to the Norwegian economy and a strong social buffer for citizens. These “soft” times are shaky as oil prices have declined from record highs.


Oil prices have dropped considerably over the past several years. Low oil prices have impacted revenue but have not caused panic (yet). As possible dark clouds loom, Norway is resistant to change. Similarly to other countries and large, bureaucratic organizations (e.g., GE, Chrysler, Kodak) that resisted change until it was too late, Norway should learn from corporate missteps.


Similarly to Japan, Norway is a consensus-driven culture; resulting in slow change as competitors zip by (e.g., Korean auto and electronics manufacturers outpacing Japanese incumbents). With large oil reserves and a highly educated population Norway has many advantages. The country cannot wait until it is too late. The question is will the leaders (and citizens) learn from others and focus on innovation. The fear of disruption typically blocks innovation. Norway needs to start the discussion now, of how the future will look.


As everyday illustrates, the world is disruptive. Many governments are moving away from globalization and more towards nationalism. Norway’s neighbor is looking at leaving the EU. The Russians are flexing their muscles. Alternative energy investments are increasing. Norwegians need to start asking fundamental questions to spark innovation in a world that may rely less on oil and gas.


Norwegians need to ensure a stable but swift move forward. Asking questions on how the future will look will drive creativity and innovation. Asking “Why?”, “What if?” and “How?” will help Norwegians develop innovative ways to maintain their comfortable life. It typically takes a crisis to spark action, but in these volatile times, no one – a country, business, or individual – can wait. Proactivity and using deliberate, systematic creativity methods will drive innovation. I hope Norway (and your organization) is listening. The tools are there, it just needs action.


Gapper, J. (2016, October 20). Norway’s oil wealth swamps innovation. Financial Times.

Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.