Ideas to Innovation
Participant 1: In the next four years or so, we could see half of all patented ideas ever in history being generated. What’s been done so far, in the next four years, we may do 50% again, and that is an absolutely breathtaking number.
Participant 2: The best health care solution is the one that can reach the most people that need it. I think that’s why society should judge us and all healthcare innovators on our ability to create products that are not just effective but affordable and accessible to more people.
Participant 3: As you all know, culture eats strategy for breakfast every day. You need an innovative culture. For Ericsson, we would have ceased to be relevant for society some time ago if we didn’t have an innovative culture built in to our corporate genes.
Participant 4: The Ideas to Innovation podcast from Clarivate.
Joan Walker: Hello. I’m Joan Walker. Welcome to the Ideas to Innovation podcast. In this brand new series, we’ll be talking to the people who live and breathe the process of turning ideas into innovation, the technologies that we depend on, the medicines that we rely on, the electricity that powers our day-to-day life. They were all once ideas before becoming inventions. Inventions that have changed our lives for the better. Join the conversation with experts and industry leaders to discuss innovation at its core.
It has been a decade since the Clarivate top 100 Global innovators was conceived. Every year, for the last decade, Clarivate has honored the companies and institutions across the world that represent innovation at its finest. Today, we have guests from two of this year’s top 100 Global Innovators joining us to talk about creating and sustaining an innovative company through fast-changing and challenging times. We also talk about the sustainability agenda, how it must work hand in hand with not just the cycle of innovation, but indeed be an integral part of companies’ fabric if we are to secure a livable and resilient world today and for generations to come. Joining us today are, John Frels, Vice President of R&D for Abbott’s Diagnostics division. Hello, John.
John Frels: Hi. Great to be here today. Thank you.
Joan: Fredrik Egrelius, Patent Unit Director at Ericsson’s IPR and Licensing Department. Hello, Fred.
Fredrik: Hello. How are you?
Joan: Very well. Nice to have you here. Ed White, Head of Analytics IP Group at Clarivate. Hello, Ed.
Ed White: Hello, Joan. Thank you very much. Good to be back.
Joan: Welcome to the three of you, because we’re all from different bits of the globe today, and it’s the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness here in London. I don’t know what it’s like with you. John, tell me what it’s like in Chicago.
John: Well, it’s the beginning of our autumn season. Absolutely beautiful time of the year here. The weather’s turning. I love to be enjoying the outdoors. It’s a great time of the year here.
Joan: Wonderful. Fred, where are you?
Fredrik: I’m based in Stockholm, and here, the weather is quite capricious right now. It’s very cloudy some days, and fairly hot some days.
Joan: Is it?
Fredrik: Yes. Really nice autumn weather.
Joan: How gorgeous. Ed, how about you? You’re just up the road, really, from me.
Ed: Yes. Not far away. We are having a typical British weather. It’s nice and gray outside the window.
Joan: Yes, absolutely. Now we are a year and a half into a global pandemic. We are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. What has been the most unusual but significant invention to have appeared in the last 18 months? Let’s kick off with that question to you, John, if we may.
John: Certainly. I would see the COVID-19 tests and the vaccines as probably some of the most significant new innovations to come out in the last 18 months in the healthcare arena. On the surface, they may not seem particularly unusual as we are all well used to seeing tests and vaccines, but what I think is so unusual is the way that they were developed and scaled up to enormous levels throughout the industry so rapidly. I think it gets at an important aspect of innovation, especially in health care, of how critical it is to be able to move, not only with speed, but at scale.
The industry overall was able to do this in weeks and months as opposed to years or more. It required technological innovations, business process innovations, looking ahead on the supply chain side, and making big investments in facilities and resources. It was really, I think, a tour de force from an industry standpoint to be able to respond.
Joan: Absolutely. That rapidity has absolutely been remarkable. I know we’ve touched on this a couple of times, and I think some people are saying, “Okay, if you can work that rapidly and that successfully for this particular pandemic, can we not do that all the time?”
John: That’s a great point, and it’s something that I think from lessons learned and a continuous focus on what we can do better as an industry to serve public health and better the health of everybody, I think there’s a tremendous number of things that we can learn, how we pull together as organizations, how we leverage the best of our technologies, how we partner between public and private institutions, how we work with governments. I think there’s a lot in here, and it’ll serve us well in the future.
Joan: Indeed. Fred, may I ask the same question to you?
Fredrik: Well, I couldn’t really agree more on the COVID vaccine development. To add a different flavor, I would perhaps turn to more quirky inventions since we all or most of us were forced to wear a mask when we went at least outside. Then it was really seen that some people, hard of hearing people, could not really communicate well with other hearing people. In Italy, they devised this face mask with a transparent film over the mouth thus enabling them to read lips in a better way, and that helped the foremost younger persons with hard of hearing.
Joan: That is amazing, is it? Because it’s something, as a hearing person or hearing people we maybe wouldn’t think about. I remember a friend of mine who actually is a college lecturer saying that when she was delivering lectures on Zoom for the students who actually couldn’t hear, they found it incredibly hard because at that point, it was a split session. Some people were present and some people weren’t, so the lecturer needed to wear her mask. It is an interesting one, isn’t it? That you just don’t think about unless it affects you. Well, thank you for that. Two really interesting points. Ed, what might you add to that?
Ed: As ever, Joan, this is a super tough question to kick off with because when we’re looking at inventions, particularly in the very recent past around the 18-month window, there’s a certain amount of attempting to look ahead and assess the potential impact and usefulness of new ideas that have recently been put in the public domain. I wish I had that power honestly, but if I put my analyst hat on and we look and see what’s trending, John’s point is clearly in the data. You can see it. We see this, some of the most fast citing ideas in the last 18 months are around, for example, COVID-specific fast testing technologies, which really underscores the importance of those biochemical approaches and the impact that they have for us as a return to normalcy.
The other one that I would point to, similar to Fred, in terms of bringing something slightly different out is, there was an interesting small package of inventions that were published over the last 18 months, mainly over last summer around things like vehicle control, car seat belts, charging systems, airbag suspension systems, windscreens from a company better known as Apple. That’s potentially a seed of something new.
Joan: Very, very interesting. We may return to all of these points later on today in our chat. Now, John, may I congratulate you and Abbott as being named a Top 100 Global Innovator 2021. What does it mean to be recognized as a Top 100 Global Innovator?
John: Thanks, Joan. For Abbott, I think it’s validation that we’re doing the right things as a company to allow our scientists and engineers to contribute new ideas and problem-solve in effective ways that benefit the global communities. That’s really what our mission is all about. Innovation is at the center of Abbott’s 2030 sustainability plan. I think we’ll talk about that a little bit more. The heart of the plan is that the best health care solution is the one that can reach the most people that need it. I think that’s why society should judge us and all healthcare innovators on our ability to create products that are not just effective but affordable and accessible to more people.
Receiving recognition like this really tells us that we’re on the right track to achieving these goals. I think there’s a good example that can be found in the FreeStyle Libre Continuous Glucose Monitor, here’s a product that from the very beginning, we really designed it with broad access in mind. We put that into the technology so that we can reach more people with diabetes. We took steps at every stage to try to make it affordable starting first of all in R&D, and then thinking about it throughout the supply chain and manufacturing cycles. Ultimately, trying to create a consistent global price through working with governments to be able to get it reimbursed.
Joan: Excellent. Again, huge congratulations to you and to Abbott. Now, congratulations are in order too, I believe to you, Fred, for Ericsson being named a 10-time Top 100 Global Innovator. How does that feel to have your innovation achievements recognized repeatedly?
Fredrik: I am, of course, delighted, delighted, delighted, delighted. I truly can say that I celebrate it every time we are mentioned among the top 100 innovators, and I make it known to the company as well. I tell my R&D research contacts whenever it happens. I tell them to be very, very proud of it. At the same time, on a personal note, I am a Swedish citizen. I grew up here. When the top 100 innovators list first came, 10 years ago, there were actually quite many Swedish companies in the list. We were just one of a number of Swedish companies. Since a couple of years, we are the only one left. That makes me a little bit sad. At the same time, it shows that I should be even more proud of this prize. I tell my research colleagues about it as well, that it’s really tough to be one of the top 100 innovators.
Joan: Absolutely. Clearly, it’s a very competitive area of work, and these recognition, achievements, they’re not just handed out willy-nilly, are they? A company has to really earn this position.
Fredrik: Yes, absolutely. When I look at our competitors, some of them are back and forth on the list, whereas we have stayed there for 10 years. That’s something I feel is really worth celebrating.
Joan: I completely agree. It is absolutely remarkable. Now, Ed, in this year’s report, you talked about how innovation has upended industries and the increased urgency and heightened need for innovation in 2021 and beyond. Can you tell us a bit more about how the process of innovation is evolving in the very different world that we are living in today?
Ed: Absolutely. One of the things I enjoy most about the top 100 program, is that it gives us this great viewpoint on what is going on in the world from a technology and technology development perspective. It’s a bit like standing on a really high hill, on a clear day. We get to see this breathtaking landscape. Part of that is big changes afoot in the way that the world generates new ideas. First and foremost, there is the sheer number of them today. Every single year, we measure how many inventions have been added to our databases in that last year. It’s always up, and the pace is increasing as well.
From our data, if we look ahead from a little bit of a predictive model, that in the next four years or so we could see half of all patented ideas ever in history being generated. What’s been done so far, in the next four years, we may do 50% again, and that is amazing. That is an absolutely breathtaking number. What’s driving that are large-scale changes in need and necessity and in opportunity. These being the two drivers historically as an impetus for innovation. That’s being hugely amplified by things like technology convergence, which is where one technology or one scientific discipline is being deployed into another industry.
It’s things like with connectivity, and Fred will be on this. With connectivity, there comes an explosion of new opportunity in the way that we spend money or the way that we consume entertainment or the way we shop or the way we work, the way we interact with health care, for example, from John’s perspective. On the needs side, we see the effect of sustainability and the need to reduce our impact on the world, the sources of energy we use, the way we move goods and people around. That has a strong dose of convergence within that topic as well.
Then there’s another driver, which is the number of trained and educated scientists and engineers on planet Earth is more than it’s ever been before. When you train an engineer, they will start solving problems, and those problems are going to crop up in patented inventions. When we look back at what that prediction of 50%, again, in four years looks like, we don’t yet have the full view of COVID and the pandemic with it, but everything that we see, everything that we hear, tells us that those existing trends, if anything, are going to be amplified.
In terms of the big picture view of what’s going on with all of that increase in pace, with that increase in volume, is coming a large fragmentary effect. More of, if not most of these new inventions, are coming from smaller companies, new companies, research institutions, companies that are patenting for the first time. Essentially, we’re talking about a wider pool, and we can actually measure that as well. The proportion of all patented ideas coming from the top 1000 entities in the global innovator’s process, is around a fifth to a quarter, 20% to 25%, but that is down from 60%, just 10 years ago. You can see where all of the growth is coming from, and what that represents, is, of course, a very tough competitive environment as Fred was talking about.
It’s also an enormous resource of ideation and creativity, and scientific and engineering talent. We see a response from our global innovators which is quite interesting. We see a response towards selectivity towards prioritizing high quality and impactful ideas for patent registration. We can see that in the sub-measures that we have within the top 100 processes. Things like the patentability success statistics, or the investment levels that they put within it. We see the volume of activity actually decreasing from those top 100. All of this has big implications on the way that companies and institutions work together with so many ideas out there from so many different players in the space. There is this huge need to be more interdisciplinary, to be more collaborative, to be more partnership-enabled.
Finally, I would sum up the changes as giving quite an optimistic view of the future with climate change, if anything, accelerating and resource extraction and usage getting greater, not less. That the challenges that we as a society, as a species have in front of us on how we live on planet Earth, those challenges are very, very high. Just as we get to the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced, we’ve got more talent, more ideas to combat those challenges than ever before.
Joan: Ed, thank you for a really comprehensive reply. Thank you so much. Now, John, the pandemic has clearly increased attention on health care, protective equipment, and diagnostics as we touched on earlier. Abbott is in the business of life, I quote, and has delivered some remarkable innovations such as the BinaxNOW COVID-19 test. Now, I would love for you to tell us a little bit more how you were able to bring to market, so quickly, an innovative testing technology that is mass-produced at a rate of tens of millions a month. Over to you.
John: Sure, thank you. Well, we knew that the rapid testing solutions that Abbott needed to bring to bear to address the pandemic, really had to push the limits of speed and affordability and scalability, but still maintaining quality and reliability. We looked at this as COVID-19 really drawing our focus to what I would call the three 3Ds of diagnostic healthcare, and I’ll go through that.
The first would be decentralization, and this point that tests don’t always have to be run at a lab or a hospital in order to be effective or reliable. The second is democratization and tests are affordable and available to the general public. Finally, digitalization, that results should be made available quickly. In our case shared via our NAVICA app, which we created along with our BinaxNOW test.
We knew from day one, it was very clear, we had the full support of the most senior leadership in our company, daily engagement. We had clarity of the end goal and priority to get the job done, and that was just central to the success of this project and all of our other COVID-19 diagnostic response programs. When we first sat down and we asked ourselves, “What do we need to do to get this done?” Our teams immediately knew that the solutions had to be bigger than any one department. We broke down the silos and worked across the entire enterprise, like I was referring to previously.
I really want to refer back to some of Ed’s comments about this whole idea of technologies coming together. That was really the story here within Binax. You had tried and true technologies for rapid testing brought together with an app development to make it much more accessible, making results available much more quickly, as well as innovation within the actual development of the test itself. The way that we did that was we brought our best scientists and data scientists together, folks that had expertise on other infectious diseases like HIV. They were leading R&D together on the science behind the diagnostics, and we worked in lockstep with all of our other colleagues to quickly create solutions.
I remember when we got our first teams together on these various projects, and I said, for these programs we’re going to be looking at our watches, not the calendars on the timeline. We really were able to turn processes and development cycles that normally would take months, sometimes years into weeks through working collaboratively with thousands of people from dozens of countries and multiple time zones.
Being able to use our rapid test to advance digital connected care I think is a really important one, so going back to the NAVICA app. Just the idea that an individual can get their test results and they basically have a COVID-19 pass available to them, a digital pass and it can help to answer that biggest question for themselves, as well as those that they live and work with, “Do I have at COVID-19, a digital pass right on your phone?” I think just making these technologies available, accessible and affordable has gone and will continue to go a long way as we work ourselves out of this pandemic.
Joan: It is remarkable, as you say. I love the analogy that you used of you’re looking at your watch, not at a calendar, and you think- I can only imagine the teams that were working on this must’ve just barely slept. That’s what it feels like.
John: That’s exactly right. It really was a 24/7 enterprise for months and months and months. I have to say, worked with my colleagues here for 26 years, and I have never seen such a campaign. Folks just rising above super commitment. I think they saw that we have technologies in our hands that we can turn into products that will really move the needle in this pandemic. It was a very inspiring time, even though we certainly stretched them, but they delivered.
Joan: That is really wonderful, John. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. Now, Fred, I’d like to turn to you if I may, because just leaping off what John has just said, if ever the can be a silver lining to the pandemic, it is that modern communications tech has enabled society, governments and businesses to continue functioning. Now, I read from Ericsson’s website that, and I quote, “Every innovation has a story of its own with a lot of great people joining together to challenge traditional ways of thinking.” How has the pandemic affected, changed or challenged your innovation approach?
Fredrik: I would say, and this is my own opinion, that it has had a positive effect on our innovation so far. Why do I say that when I hear prominent inventors and colleagues being really fed up with staying at home and not being able to discuss with their normal research partners over a cup of coffee in the office? Well, the reason why I say this, is that I have other colleagues. Firstly, there are, of course, other persons who think that physical meetings for innovations, they are over rated. What it has meant for the company is the wipeout of the geographical neediness to your colleague, and that had caused the inventors to reach out to previously unknown colleagues in other sites.
When I look at invention disclosures like every day, I just say, “Wow, I see new constellations of inventor teams from all over the globe who have managed to find each other and thus broadened their network and made new research, made new inventions, and hopefully, they can continue like that.” I would say this hopefully temporary effects of the pandemic possibly had a long-term effect on our innovation capacity in the company.
Joan: That is amazing, isn’t it? As you say, it’s like people really having the necessity to reach out, to extend their contacts and finding a person that they might hear the two not to found, but out of necessity, it’s strengthened all of those working relationships that could have just been dormant forever.
Joan: Well, we’ll take that as a silver lining. It is very, very interesting how we are moving on, isn’t it? At pace. As John said, people really put their heart and soul into it, and look where we are now. The Frederick and John, what your companies have achieved and continue to do is nothing short of remarkable. I think there’s certainly something to be said about both Abbott and Ericsson, companies that were founded over a century ago, and they continue to raise the bar in innovation excellence. As we said, Ericsson, 10 times recognized in the top 100.
I’m going to throw this over to you Ed, what does that tell us about the role of innovation culture as an indicator of a company’s long-term success? Because this is something that this year’s top 100 global innovators report explores. What would you suggest?
Ed: We explored this year, this topic of consistency, these companies that come to the top of our rankings and stay there. We were using the international patent system to track and compare companies over time to look at which ones have that consistency and what it looks like. Are there things within it that we can pull out? Often, when you look at technology and innovation as a subject in the wider zeitgeist in the media, a lot of focus is put on young companies, startups, companies built from scratch that are designed to disrupt and to change existing markets.
Of course, that is incredibly important. A fundamental principle of our economic system is that capital should be most intensively put where it can generate the most return. From an innovation and idea creation standpoint, the one or two big ideas within a young company needs to stand up against the idea generation capability of thousands of big and medium and small ideas being generated by companies that have been doing it for a really, really long time.
When we did that, we see some of these themes. That companies with this long heritage and this consistent habit for new ideas and new thinking, they are the ones that sit at the top of the 100 list consistently. They actually generate a much greater investment return than those that are less consistent in our rankings. The difference is quite large. It’s a factor of two and a half times in difference in return. In fact, they generate a greater return than typical stock market tracking indices.
What we’re measuring here, is that inbuilt thirst and happiness and drive to reinvent, to grab the opportunity of change and not just react to it, but embrace it and drive it, and what we came to call their innovation culture. This is all of the practices and principles and forums for collaboration and the direction and guidance of the leadership, the way of thinking the way of decision-making. Making sure that strategy and culture are working together rather than intention. All of that is what we’re calling innovation culture and good innovation culture. When you look at the history of our top 100 recipients, they’ve not just navigated market change or reacted to it, but they’ve actively driven it.
Joan: They’re not just a flash in the pan. They’re really taking on board, as you just described, all of the sea changes and moving.
Ed: That’s all right. I think of it this way, the first idea is quite difficult, but how difficult is the 10,000th idea?
Joan: [chuckles] Yes, absolutely. Thanks very, very much for that, Ed. Fredrik, I’d love your take on this as well.
Fredrik: Thank you. As you all know culture eats strategy for breakfast every day, so you need an innovative culture. For Ericsson, that is not an exception. We wouldn’t simply exist. We would have ceased to be relevant for society some time ago, if we didn’t have an innovative culture built in to our, I would say, corporate genes almost. Hanging on to what Ed said about entrepreneurs, I think that for an innovative culture to be good, you also need intrapreneurs within a large company because all inventors, they, of course, like to see their invention realized. If you have a company which cannot cater for that, then then they stop innovating, I guess.
I would say that the culture of intrapreneurship is key to catch fast-developing trends and also being able to broaden the business of the company if need be. You cannot stick to perhaps always what your core business are if you don’t know the future. I would say it’s important for me personally, and then also, I know that many of my colleagues at work, we work actively every week to support the intrapreneurs as best as we can.
Joan: Indeed, and as you said a second ago, it’s important for those entrepreneurs to actually see their big ideas actually being put into practice. Because you think, “Well, what’s the point of having these fabulous ideas if the company isn’t actually going to allow you to bring them to fruition?”
Fredrik: Exactly. We have a number of, I would say, internal incubator organizations to help those inventors to really, I would say, reduce their invention into practice, and start their own business if it is a good idea and if we see that the market really likes their invention. I think that’s cool, and it’s, as I said, necessary as well.
Joan: It must be very satisfying for those entrepreneurs to have that incredible support and belief in whatever it is that they are at the very, very beginning of. That’s very heartening, Fred. John, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this. I’m sure you have lots to add. What does it take to build a culture that celebrates new ideas and consistently changes the status quo?
John: I couldn’t agree more with Ed and Fred’s comments. Innovation is part of the culture at Abbott. That’s been my experience here over my career. We really do strive to create a workplace where work flourishes, and that really starts at the level of our scientists or engineers and everybody within our project teams trying to create an environment where they feel comfortable to ask questions and bring ideas forward. We believe that some of those ideas may very well be our next big projects, or may trigger other ideas that ultimately will get us there. Our goal is to be able to foster and support that inherent curiosity and encourage them to want to make a difference in the world.
I think another big contribution to our innovation culture is Abbott’s commitment to R&D. Our hope is that a scientist or engineer sees that and says, “Wow, they are investing in the very thing that’s going to make me want to come in here and give my absolute best every day.” That inspiring environment and one that is looking to the future and continues to invest in that. I think our folks here have the chance to work on many different technologies across different lines of business. It’s a very unique environment. It could be nutritional products, or diagnostic testing, or medical devices in a very diverse technology basis. These kinds of experiences can sometimes translate to more innovation than you would normally think. I just think the pure diversity of the company is one inherent engine for that.
I think the COVID-19 testing is a good example of an innovation culture, because as I indicated before, employees were directly involved in this right from the start. They really gave their all, and they were encouraged to think creatively about the challenges and solutions that normally might not necessarily be in their purview. People had permission to be as creative as possible because we knew that the normal processes and the normal way of doing things that we might consider on a day to day basis, it wasn’t going to get us where we needed to be as fast as we needed to get there. It really led to some unprecedented innovation.
Maybe one final example I’ll put out there is one I’m directly involved in day to day and have been for many years, and that is a group that we call Abbott’s Scientific Governing Board. I have the honor to lead this group. The board is composed of more than a dozen members, and includes the heads of all of our separate R&D from all of our businesses. We meet on a regular basis. We talk about technology trends. We talk about technical leadership development, career paths. We look for that, that white space to innovate within, and it’s this group and others like it across the company that have been so central to our innovative culture as well as laying some groundwork for our sustainability plans for the future.
Joan: Very interesting. That brings me into my next question to you, John, actually, because, given the current pandemic, it’s really easy to lose sight of bigger health care challenges that we face, would you agree? Because obviously, that has been all consuming for however long, for everybody in science and elsewhere. How does Abbott manage innovating to address the very immediate and urgent public health crisis that is COVID, while making sure that you do continue to innovate and deliver to people who are living with conditions such as diabetes, and other chronic and infectious diseases. Can you just expand a little on that?
John: Certainly, yes. I think it comes down to the fact that if companies want to continue to be successful, they need to be able to pivot their strategies and be adaptable to meet the changing needs. There’s a saying we have here, you don’t get to be 130-year-old company by staying the same every year, so we are constantly adapting. That’s what Abbott did when it became apparent that the world needed our scientists to come up with COVID-19 diagnostic solutions.
I spoke earlier about how we try to allow our employees the opportunity to spend time working in different lines of business and gain exposure to these things, and even different parts of the world. I really think that having that varied experience throughout our company, and exposure to these different types of technologies, and all these different aspects of health care, has really served us well, in a pandemic. We were able to draw from our organic strength and scientific depth that we inherently have had and built up over years in the areas of diabetes and chronic and infectious disease diagnostics and management.
As I said earlier, we asked a lot of our teams to stretch themselves for the COVID-19 mission, so we can not only address those needs, but keep up our momentum and all the other areas of the business, and they certainly delivered. You have to have focus, and you have to have the support of your most senior leadership, and as I said before, we really did. I give credit to our most senior leadership for having the vision to know that we need to do both, and they need to support our teams to be able to do that.
We intensely focus on the diagnostics R&D related to COVID testing, but at the same time, we try to align our work and align our areas of focus and our structures during this time so that we don’t lose sight of the broader purpose, which is really about helping people live better lives, and all of these things that roll up into our sustainability plan. Which is really focused on transforming care for infectious and chronic diseases, and breaking down barriers to ultimately advance health equity, which is what Abbott’s here to do.
Joan: Sure. Thank you, John. Thank you very much for that. Now, Fred, the other significant crisis of our times that’s often been overshadowed by COVID is the climate crisis, and some of us have seen some horrific extreme weather conditions across the globe. We’re all aware of those. To ensure a livable world for generations to come, individual and collective action is needed now on climate change and sustainability. Now, I’ve read that sustainability is central to Ericsson’s purpose and that Ericsson sees sustainability as a value creator. I wonder if you could tell me a little more.
Fredrik: Sure. When we talk about sustainability at Ericsson, we have broadened it to not only include environmental sustainability, but also corporate responsibility and digital inclusion for all people. If I stick to the environmental sustainability, which I believe is what you’re after, then there are of course, a number of activities ongoing, a number of them high and low.
I would like there to highlight two general things that the company work. One of them being to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from our own activity. We have set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we are well on the way. We have reduced our emission by 57% compared to 2016 when we started the calculations. Another example is, of course, our products, and there we have the target of making 5G equipments 10 times more efficient than 4G. So far, we’ve reach 6.6, which I think is a good result so far.
Joan: Getting there really very speedily and well within the time frame.
Fredrik: Absolutely. I would say we are ahead of our all our targets.
Joan: Excellent. Thank you for that, Fred. With that in mind, how does one go about innovating and building technology for good?
Fredrik: Again, I would say there are a number of really good examples, and I can really talk for a hours about these. They include wireless factories, of course, increasing the number of solar power solutions. Also we have this, we call the Ericsson Response where we respond to calls from the United Nations whenever there is a natural disaster. We go there. We set up emergency communication networks to help the aid workers and those impacted. If I give you an example, which I really like, and which I come in contact with at least on a weekly basis, is the problem of digital illiteracy and access to internet. Today over 40% of the world’s population, still lack internet access. It’s a huge number.
Joan: That’s a huge number.
Fredrik: Ericsson is doing there in cooperation with the UNICEF, is to in a first step, try to connect every school to the internet by 2030. We are working with that currently in 25 countries. You couldn’t believe when I would say on a weekly basis, inventors come to me, and they have thought about this problem them and how to improve the situation for school kids. I find that really inspiring.
Joan: Absolutely. Thank you for that, Fred. Now, John, Abbot is also very much committed to sustainability. Now, I read in your 2030 sustainability plan that sustainability is in everything you do at Abbot. Can you tell us a little more?
John: Certainly. At Abbot sustainability to us means managing our company to deliver a long-term impact for the people we serve. That means that we’re really going to be shaping the future of health care in order to help the greatest number of people that we can, live better and healthier. That’s our central thinking in all of this. When we introduced our plan last year, at its core, is that belief that, that the best healthcare solutions are those that can help the greatest number of people. Instead of focusing on extending the realm of what I would call the possible, which is how one might describe the approach that health care innovation has probably had over the last century, we need to think about and move toward expanding the reach of the practical.
Here’s what I mean by that. It may seem like a bit of a conflict because our industry has always been focused on the need to generate sufficient profit to fund future innovations, but access in and of itself, and as part of that affordability of our products and the business success can all work together if we rethink how our product development strategy and our processes underneath it. The problem to solve, I think, is to create future products with both effectiveness and access.
Equally, fundamental design objectives. It needs to be part of the design team upfront, that there’s an intentionality to how we’re going at design. The products need to be accessible and affordable. That’s a core part of our 2030 plan. It reaches across workforce innovations, connecting data, healthcare. This convergence of different technologies and finding a way to be able to do that. We believe in the end that through these efforts and through this philosophy, that we can touch the lives of one in three people globally it by 2030.
Joan: John, thank you so much for that. Now, obviously from everything that you and Fred have just outlined and Ed as well, it’s important that companies think broadly and longer term about sustainability. Now, in fact, a Bank of America, Merrill Lynch report revealed that companies with a better and environmental, social and governance record are more likely to be successful in the longer term. Ed, can I ask you this? How is Clarivate embracing today’s sustainability imperative?
Ed: Similar to Fred and John, for Clarivate, sustainability is right at the core of what we’re doing. I would characterize it as two tracks. One is internally and, and how Clarivate runs its business, the way that we work. The way that we interact and add to the communities in which we sit, the imprint of the firm on the world, the focus on inclusion of diverse people thinking and ideas, and placing integrity as our first principle, rather than an add-on.
It is also the mission and the journey that we are on with our customers. The very reason for the existence of Clarivate is that human ingenuity transforms and improves the world. Ingenuity like John and Fred and their colleagues, and the things that they’re talking about, that’s incredibly inspiring. That ingenuity I’m talking about it is in our customers, and our task is to provide the clarity and the guidance and the information sources so that they can innovate. That means that the footprint of human society is reduced.
One of the things that I think is quite cool and actually very optimistic is when we use all of these scoring systems, that I spend my days working on innovation measures. The ones that sit right in the sweet spot. The ones that sit in the top right-hand corner of a two by two grid. They are all sustainability topics. They are energy production and energy consumption and material science and healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Our role is to ensure that innovators and researchers have the insight that’s required to decide that they can spot the unsolved problem, that they can focus on the highest need.
Much of what I was talking about earlier, those mega convergence trends of things like connectivity and mobility and well-being, and even things like automation, they all contribute massively to the sustainability agenda and the sustainability underpinning ideas. The things that John was talking around digitization of medicine and telemedicine, meaning that health care is cheaper and more available and there for more people, electrification of the way that people move through the world, but built on renewable energy sources. Or it’s things like automation in treatment and extraction of waste streams, so that we consume material and create a more circular economy.
The complexity of all of that convergence and all the other things that we’ve been discussing in modern technology development means that the role of Clarivate in providing the distilled view and informed answer is incredibly, incredibly important, and it’s there that Clarivate has a huge role to play in the sustainability imperative to help innovate, to solve these problems. That’s really empowering and exciting for us as colleagues and as a team.
Joan: Ed, thank you so much for that. Now, I’d just like to wrap up today’s conversation with each of you sharing your thoughts on three steps we can all take to help build a more resilient and sustainable future for the world. Let’s start with you, John.
John: Certainly. Thanks. I think, first, we need to keep an eye on long-term needs when we’re creating technologies today. For example, the future of health care shapes our current work, so that we’re innovating to help the greatest number of people live better lives. I think we’re doing this when we do it through the lens of making future products more accessible and more affordable.
Second, I think we need to think big. We need to look for ways to contribute big answers to big problems. That might mean creating new technologies to address chronic health conditions, as I touched on before, like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, but also malnutrition and other infectious diseases, and not only COVID 19, but also HIV, malaria, and hepatitis.
Finally, I think we need to innovate for real world use to make the most impact. I think the way to do that is through partnerships, because no one person or organization alone has all the answers. Corporations can certainly advance health equity through partnerships. What I mean by that is working side by side with people and communities at the community level to be able to expand access to care and remove barriers.
Joan: John, thank you so much. Thank you. I’ve made a note at each of those, and I’m going to talk to you next year and then say, how are these three looking?
John: Terrific. Thanks, Joan.
Joan: Fred, over to you. What are your three steps?
Fredrik: I thank John for saying such good things. If I should say it in it another way, I would, as number one, say to all inventors that you should continue to innovate in areas which make the world more sustainable. Second, what we all can do is to truly embrace the circular economy that Ed talked about. Third, and unfortunately for me, it means less traveling until we have found a more sustainable travel means for long-distance travel. I believe that COVID showed too many professions that it is possible to travel considerably less in our work at least.
Joan: Indeed. Fred, thank you so much for that. Ed, over to you. What are your three steps?
Ed: For researchers out there, one of my first steps would be, don’t waste other people’s good ideas. Don’t reinvent. Use the information sources out there to build your ideas on what’s already been done and make it empowered by the last one rather than potentially repeating what somebody else has done. That’s the first one. The second one I would say is personalize the mission. If you are a biochemist or a mechanical engineer, an aerodynamicist, computer scientist, you have amazing knowledge and talent at your disposable that absolutely can make a difference. The solutions the world is going to need is going to be built on your knowledge. Make sure that you’ve got that as a personal mission.
Then the last one would really be for leaders and for companies themselves, which is when you’re assessing need an opportunity and where you’re going to spend, make sure that that’s being done where value is created while reducing harm and impact. Really the message there is that they don’t contradict, they actually reinforce. The way that the world will develop over the next 10, 15 years is going to be largely determined by what we can do to reduce harm. The level of resource usage, the way we generate and consume energy, these are economic opportunities as much as they are sustainable development.
Joan: Ed, thank you so much. Well, it just remains for me to thank all three of you. Thank you, John Frels.
John: Thank you very much, Joan. I’ve been happy to be part of this.
Joan: It’s been excellent to have your company, and thank you, Fredrik Egrelius.
Fredrik: Many thanks to you as well, Joan.
Joan: Ed White, thank you.
Ed: Thank you very much, Joan.
Joan: It’s been a truly fascinating conversation about the top 100 global innovators. As we look, hopefully, toward transitioning from the current pandemic to an endemic, innovators, the world over, will continue to play a central role in building and accelerating us to a brighter, better, more sustainable future. Follow and listen to Ideas To Innovation for engaging, informative, and inspirational content with insights you can use. Now available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast directories. Share, like, review or join the conversation with your comments on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook by clicking on the share link. Thank you for joining us. Until next time, I’m Joan Walker. Goodbye.
Participant: The Ideas to Innovation Podcast from Clarivate.
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