• GE’s global survey of business executives finds that there is a growing number of executives who are confident that their country is self-sufficient and does not need to rely on other countries to innovate.
  • It further finds there is growing belief that protectionist policies ultimately support innovation and domestic economies—a trend that has grown with the pandemic.
  • A potential paradox has begun to emerge, as business executives also increasingly recognize the importance of country-to-country partnerships as vital to innovation.


GE (NYSE: GE) has just unveiled the results of its 2020 GE Global Innovation Barometer, titled “Pride and Protectionism: A Quest for Innovation Agency.” The study, which included survey questions both before the global outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019 and again in September 2020, explores how global business leaders think about the state of innovation and how its future is being impacted by the pandemic and other geopolitical trends.

This year’s report reveals a paradox emerging with regards to business executives’ view on cross-border collaboration and protectionism. The report shows that business executives increasingly view protectionism as a way to protect their domestic innovation environments, while at the same time, the results show that their appetite for collaboration across industries and geographies remains strong.

In its seventh edition, the Global Innovation Barometer surveyed over 3,400 business executives in 22 countries in two separate studies; one concluding in February of 2020 and another in September of 2020. The second study was conducted to understand any changes in global sentiment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the study highlights innovation’s vital role in addressing the major challenges that the world now faces, while also exploring how the pandemic poses threats to the globe’s new innovation imperative.

Further, the pandemic solidified business leaders’ belief that innovation is both vital to their future and under threat. They see innovation having a crucial role in addressing the major challenges that the world now faces; however, they also feel that pandemic poses threats to this new innovation imperative. Progress has slowed in some industries and markets since the onset of COVID-19 as a result.

Healthcare Industry as Innovation Champion

In this year’s report, business executives voiced their admiration for the healthcare industry’s ingenuity during the pandemic, saying it has outperformed all other sectors with respect to innovation progress in the period, 9% more than the next most innovative industry, the telecoms/internet industry. The private sector is seen as taking a leadership role in driving innovation in healthcare, with 83% of business executives saying that companies have taken a leadership role in driving innovation due to the pandemic. This is 5 points higher than business executives’ perception of the government’s role in driving innovation in the period. This year’s study is reflective of business executives’ belief that healthcare innovation is required to enable the innovation of other industries. According to respondents, the healthcare industry has risen to the challenge of COVID-19 and the business community has gained a deeper appreciation for the industry’s role in the economy overall.

U.S. Maintains Status as the World’s Innovation champion

The study also pulsed global business leaders on which country they believe to be the world’s innovation leader.

While the study’s results in September found that China and the U.S. were in a narrowing race to claim their place as the globe’s innovation champion, China’s place has softened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. lead remains.

Internal optimism regarding innovation in China also has fallen since the onset of COVID-19, while sentiment in the U.S. has become more positive. 89% of business executives in China believed their own market was an innovation-conducive environment before the pandemic, but that figure has dropped to 80% after COVID-19 emerged. Conversely, 79% of business executives from the U.S. believed their country was an innovationconducive environment before the pandemic, and that figure has increased to 88% after the pandemic emerged.

Some additional top findings from the report include:

  • 87% of business executives say that innovation plays a vital role in protecting people’s health and wellbeing, and 82% believe the healthcare industry has set a great example for others to follow regarding the speed of innovation.
  • Business executives in the U.S., Asia and Europe consider the U.S. the world’s innovation champion, but executives in other markets have a different view. Executives from Africa and the Middle East consider China the world’s innovation champion, while execs from LATAM hold Japan as the most innovative market.
  • 3 in 4 business executives believe that global supply chains are under increased scrutiny, with Vietnam, China and the U.S. feeling the most pressure at +11%, +10% and +8%, respectively, versus the average response.
  • Executives identified mobility, investment and collaboration restrictions as their biggest concerns for the future of innovation. 50% are concerned that the restriction of people, goods and services will have a negative effect on innovation.
  • On the future of talent, 75% say they are concerned about the source of new and skilled talent, while 71% say remote learning will prevent STEM students from having a holistic experience of their field.
  • On artificial intelligence (AI), business executives know that AI is a catalyst to innovation and an indispensable tool in the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. 72% of all business executives believe using AI, automation and machine learning will be important to their companies in a post-COVID-19 world. 81% say AI and machine learning will be important because of their benefits to the working experience.