Leapfrogging

WorldChanging has a post by Jamais Cascio on “the notion that areas which have poorly-developed technology or economic bases can move themselves forward rapidly through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps.”

Rather than following the already-developed nations in the same course of “progress,” leapfrogging means that developing regions can experiment with emerging tools, models and ideas for building their societies. Leapfrogging can happen accidentally (such as when the only systems around for adoption are better than legacy systems elsewhere), situationally (such as the adoption of decentralized communication for a sprawling, rural countryside), or intentionally (such as policies promoting the installation of WiFi and free computers in poor urban areas).

The best-known example of leapfrogging is the adoption of mobile phones in the developing world. It’s easier and faster to put in cellular towers in rural and remote areas than to put in land lines, and as a result, cellular use is exploding. As we’ve noted, mobile phone use already exceeds land line use in India, and by 2007, 150 million out of the 200 million phone lines there will be cellular.

Leapfrogging is an important concept to keep in mind when thinking about global development and the future of emerging countries such as India, Brazil and China. Developmental histories do not all follow the same path. Technologies and ideas which seem somewhat powerful when implemented in the West may be utterly transformative in locations not laden down with legacies of past development. The future belongs to those best able to change along with it; sometimes, starting from nothing can be an engine for just that sort of change.

Innovation

Innovation Weblog points to the [US] Council on Competitiveness report on innovation. From the report: “Innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America’s success through the 21st century… America’s challenge is to unleash its innovation capacity to drive productivity, standard of living and leadership in global markets. At a time when macro-economic forces and financial constraints make innovation-driven growth a more urgent imperative than ever before, American businesses, government, workers and universities face an unprecedented acceleration of global change, relentless pressure for short-term results, and fierce competition from countries that seek an innovation-driven future for themselves. For the past 25 years, we have optimized our organizations for efficiency and quality. Over the next quarter century, we must optimize our society for innovation.”

Are we even thinking along these lines in India?