Anita Krohn Traaseth: Public sector must take a lead role in driving innovation

“Is Lean leadership relevant or even possible for the public sector?”

Nordic Business Forum Sweden 2018 kicked off on Wednesday, January 24 with an inspiring talk by Anita Krohn Traaseth, the CEO of Innovation Norway, the official national development organ for Norwegian enterprises and industry.

In line with this year’s Lean and leadership themes, her contribution focused on how Lean business models are just as relevant for complex organisations in the public sector.

“The times they are a-changing,” sings Bob Dylan, but his lyrics are just as relevant today,” said Traaseth. “There is a massive wave of change going on right now, and it is global.”

She says these sea changes affect the entire world – and while some of them present a risk – they also provide incredible business opportunities.

She pointed out that the United Nations even helpfully provided everyone with a list: the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For a small 5.2 million-population country like Norway, the potential for innovations to tackle these problems is extraordinary.

“If you can be part of solving it: coming up with cross-industry, cross-sector solutions, you already have a market,” she said, pointing out that 190 countries have signed onto the goals.

But few start-ups and unicorns have the capital to scale up their ideas for tackling the world’s problems. That’s where the public sector can come in.

Traaseth said that in her view, seeing as how the Norwegian government spends 500 billion dollars annually on products and services, it can play a key role in providing the support that is needed.

The solution is better public and private sector partnership.

“Do not tell me that bureaucrats are any less innovative than private sector employees,” Innovation Norway’s CEO said.

She spoke about the huge gap in state organisations between incremental and radical innovation, citing the school environment, which has remained largely unchanged in Norway and Sweden for 50 years, as an example.

But Traaseth says the Norwegian government, through her promotional organisation, Innovation Norway, is taking steps to activate its stance on innovation, relying on Lean principles. How are they doing it?

She said that while its highly lucrative offshore oil reserves made her Nordic country a decidedly not-diverse economy, last year the government launched a national strategy for export development and entrepreneurship.

In addition, they have worked to “change the game of public procurement”. The new model uses the word innovation 30 times in its mission statement, where the aim is to support start-ups and experimentation with a highly flexible approach.

Traaseth says it is about instilling a “Dare To Do It” culture in the public sector, and utilizing the internet of things to promote private-public innovation.

So is Lean leadership possible in the public sector? Traaseth answers:

“It is not only possible, it is essential. We will never be able to solve the world’s problems if the public and private sector don’t start working together.”

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