Vijay Vaitheeswaran: Move Nimbly, Be Open, Fail Gracefully [Interview/Video]

Vijay Vaitheeswaran at Asia Society New York on March 12, 2012.
Vijay Vaitheeswaran at Asia Society New York on March 12, 2012.

In the 21st century, according to Vijay Vaitheeswaran, China Business and Finance Editor for The Economist, innovation is no longer merely about "a gadget or gizmo." Instead, it needs to be "fresh thinking that creates something valuable," and its defining characteristics are that it is "more ambitious, more disruptive ... and more democratic" than what we usually think of as innovation.

Vaitheeswaran offered these bracing prescriptions in his appearance last night at Asia Society New York, where he shared some of the insights behind his new book NEED, SPEED and GREED, billed by his publisher as "the essential insider's guide to the new world of innovation and how its benefits can be shared more equitably."

As part of his talk — moderated by Orville Schell, Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations — Vaitheeswaran defined three key tenets that guide successful innovation today, whether for large established corporations or individuals working out of a garage in Hyderabad, India. These were: Move nimbly; be open; and fail gracefully. Watch the excerpt below to hear Vaitheeswaran expand on each of these mantras.

Meanwhile, prior to his Asia Society appearance, Vaitheeswaran was able to answer a few questions for Asia Blog via email:

For the purposes of your book, how do you define innovation?

Innovation is not invention! It is often conflated with technology, patents and gizmos, but is better defined as fresh thinking that creates value.

Who is currently better at innovation, India or China? Why? Will this change in the future?

The two have different strengths and weaknesses. India has a more creative but unstructured approach which lends itself to design but China's more technical approach favors process innovation.

How will global innovation escape taking advantage of low cost labor (and isn't this a big factor in their success), particularly in Asian countries that are still developing or have authoritarian governments?

I predict that the age of cheap China is over. Southeast Asia and India will not replace the coast of China as the world's workshop — nor can the interior of the mainland. We are stuck with more expensive China.

You've been an advocate of green energy, one of the big areas of innovation worldwide. Considering China's track record with green technology, how do you think it will evolve in the future in terms of energy efficiency and clean energy use?

China has a chance to leapfrog ahead in the race to build the clean, climate-friendly industries of the future. The jury is out.

Where do you think will be the biggest area for innovation in China at the moment? Will that change in the near future, and why?

Moving rapidly from low-end to high-end manufacturing is the challenge: must China make only pennies off each iPad?

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing innovators and innovative ideas in China right now?

The educational system and traditional deference to authority. I believe Disruptive Dads beat Tiger Moms!

Video: Vijay Vaitheeswaran at Asia Society New York (9 min., 15 sec.)

About the Author

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Jeff Tompkins is New York Content Manager at Asia Society.