The countdown has started; the last bilateral negotiations are becoming frenzied as we approach the opening date for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. A pattern is emerging where countries are embracing this opportunity to show leadership and managing the event as a contingency. The pattern is one of A and B teams of countries, a pattern similar to that in Danish companies investing in innovation.

The quotes in this column are headlines from the Danish national business newspaper, Børsen, on 13 November 2009. They highlight the importance of and the focus on innovation within Business Denmark, but they also reveal the two contrasting opposite approaches to innovation: management and leadership.

The crisis is creating A and B teams of innovation

by Anders Paarup Nielsen and Jan Vang

The recent Innobarometer 2009 poll published by the European Commission reveals that while some 75% of Danish companies have maintained or increased their spending on innovation during the financial crisis, the remaining 25% have reduced investment – a figure that should be contrasted to 14% for Germany and 13% for Sweden.

In a page 2 article in Børsen on 12 November, two academics – Anders Paarup Nielsen and Jan Vang from Aalborg University – warn of the danger of Danish companies becoming split into A and B teams in terms of investment in innovation. The impact on Denmark’s competitiveness and the financing of its society’s welfare from such a split would be dramatic.

Lessons learned: bold vision required

A good friend of mine, Christian Dehn Managing Director of the AVT Business School, recently returned from a study tour with a group of MBA students of visits to the acclaimed gurus in innovation management (Google, IDEO, etc.). One of the lessons from the trip was the difference between the US and Denmark in the boldness of the visions of would-be innovators. Let me elaborate.

Innovation management as a skill

The vision of the potential innovation is a key motivator for the ambitious, would-be innovator. If his or her sights are set too low, then the bar will be correspondingly lower and the type of innovation is likely to be incremental. And incremental innovations are more likely to be managed. This is a continuous flow that can be optimized and learned.

Danish leaders are spoiled

by Wenche Strømsnes og Poul Blaabjerg, Danish Center for Leadership

The pragmatic approach to problem solving inherent in many, often small to medium sized Danish companies, puts these firms at an advantage in managing the innovation process. This continues to be evident in the success of Danish companies: to continuously improve (read incrementally innovate) past inventions. However, competition from, e.g. China or India, is likely to begin to challenge this situation: although the investment in innovation being made by these two countries has dropped, it is still above the level in Denmark. And these countries will continue to do what they do so well: continuously improve and optimize routine processes (read manage e.g. innovation).

Innovation management as an art

If the ambition, however, is to aim for the skies, the bar becomes higher and the innovation is likely to be radical. This requires the type of innovation management in which leadership is essential since the pathway to the goal is uncharted and involves high risks.

Building bridges between innovation and the market

by Steen Lindby, Rockwool

The pattern emerging among the countries participating in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference is one where some countries are taking leadership roles: a similar pattern is emerging in those Danish companies that are continuing to invest in innovation amid the financial turmoil. These companies are betting on the future and are likely to improve their competitiveness at lower cost than before the crisis. These companies are the business leaders of Business Denmark.

From skilful managers to visionary innovators

Danish companies can be proud

by Hans Skov Christensen, CEO of Danish Industries

Just as mitigating and preventing the effects from global warming requires breakthrough innovations and the leadership to paint the future, small and medium sized Danish companies need to embrace the challenges of the present times and build on their acclaimed advantage as skilful managers. But the crisis also requires that leaders believe in the future and formulate visions that will become the foundations for future incremental innovations.

Frode Lundsten

About Frode Lundsten

Frode LundstenFrode Lundsten, guest editor, Denmark. Frode has more than 20 years of experience in helping companies to sustain or revitalize their growth. He has worked both in national and international contexts of business development and change management, where strategy implementation and applied innovation management has been the focus. Frode also has experience from publishing and media industry, both as a publisher and a columnist. Frode holds a MBA degree from Henley Management College, UK, where his dissertation focused on the adoption of open innovation in Danish companies. Frode is also founder and partner of