France invents “Slow Innovation”: deconstructing Montebourg at #leweb
Minister Montebourg (to his credit) took a chance at LeWeb to talk about innovation and the French policy towards innovation, together with Loic Le Meur, Fabrice Grinda and Jeff Clavier.
Montebourg is trying to convey a core message: France is a great creative nation and is innovating today, as proven by its R&D and its technology giants. In other words, you can build great companies in France today.
It's a truly fascinating panel where Mr Montebourg is name-dropping LiKaShing and the MIT, talking about France being extremely successful in attractive foreign direct investment, singing the praises of tax rebates (CIR) and "solemnly" indicating that the Capital Gains Tax of France is no worse than that of California (hum). Mr. Montebourg takes issue with the Financial Times and the Economist doing France bashing. It's mostly a set of half truths, but his apparent level of conviction is somewhere between impressive and scary.
The most striking moment (by now well publicized) comes with a question on Uber. The Minister finds that disruptive change is acceptable, but that it needs to be done in a measured manner to "protect those who do not accept change" and "are affected by change".
Here are his exact words: "When innovation destroy systems, we have to go slowly. This is what we call balance, equilibrium, balance. We never say the world is not changing. Beware, when we destroy sector of the economy, you have to use caution". He adds: "You can innovate without destroying. We have to protect the Producers; the Consumers are not the Kings of the world".
It sounds perfectly reasonable, but let me make this clear for you : this is code speak for what is effectively an entire society built on the "defense of vested interests". The entire country is in the grip of small or large vested interest groups who view change with hostility or at least suspicion and are intent on slowing it down for as long as they can.
You can compare and contrast that with Fred Wilson's views on "bureaucratic hierarchies" and "technology-enabled networks" ability to disrupt them. I know who's going to win this battle : those who live in the real world.
Bottom line: after the Slow Food movement from Italy, I guess we now have the Slow Innovation movement. Good luck with that.
Mascot of the Slow Innovation Movement
By the way, when Mr Montenbourg says macro data proves that France is a highly innovative nation, it's completely untrue. Here is one example for you (from end 2010): in the last 40 years, we have seen the emergence of only 4 new French companies with R&D budgets exceeding EUR100M compared to 83 in the US. Looked at another way: in Dec 2010 there were 25 French tech mid caps (market cap $100M to $1bn) compared to … 562 in the US. That's 22 times more.
Bottom line: France is facing technological decline. It's now allowing any new leaders to emerge, and it's underinvesting in its future.
Alcatel/Lucent, ST Micro or SAGEM are names you can keep pointing to, but they're pretty long in the tooth by now. Where are the new leaders ?
Whilst there are some interesting success stories (Free/Iliad, Business Objects, Gemalto, Soitec, Meetic, Corevalve, Dailymotion, Seloger, Vente-Privée, Inside Secure, Ilog, Sequans Communication, Sophis), none can really be considered a global leader or a future Alcatel. Business Objects was acquired by SAP, Dassault-Systems came out of Dassault and is not really a start-up and Vente-Privee let the US market slip.
I like a minister that has an ambitious and dynamic message. I don't like a minister that entirely ignores reality, data or the people he pretends to enable to sing a tune that has nothing to do with reality. Let's get real.