Innovation has always been a key foundation of a strong business, with even the world's largest brands continuing to push boundaries in order to stay one step ahead of their rivals with the latest must-have products or services. Strong innovative businesses also lead to a robust economy, attracting worldwide attention and creating conditions and cultures which allow other firms to thrive.

The UK government clearly recognises this; back in June prime minister David Cameron announced the creation of the £1 million Longitude Prize, rewarding any individual or company that can solve one of the "biggest problems of our time". In addition, Mr Cameron hopes that deciding what that problem is will stimulate debate about innovation and further highlight how important it is. In announcing the award, Lord Rees, the English Astronomer Royal and chair of the overseeing committee for the prize, noted: "There has never been a greater need for clever and socially useful inventions, and there have never been more people with the potential to make them if they're given the opportunity and incentive."

Lord Rees's view of the need for innovators is backed in one respect by research from Accenture, which shows that 58 per cent of businesses believe UK innovation is lagging behind that of the US, China and other Asian markets. It went on to reveal that many companies think the government should be taking the lead driving innovation, but experts at Accenture believe that companies need to take the primary role, starting with executive boards that encourage and reward that type of thinking.

In order to achieve this, companies need inquisitive and innovative employees, but too often firms find themselves restricted by the need for degree-level qualifications in a particular field. Where possible, it may be beneficial for companies to look for education not simply in their industry field, but in innovation itself.

A course like the BA/BSc Honours Product Design Degree from Middlesex University isn't bogged down in industry specifics, and instead provides students with "the skills, knowledge, experience and confidence to design and develop compelling products, services and systems for the 21st century". Graduates are therefore trained in how to direct curiosity and ingenuity into commercial applications, tackle challenges and build on opportunities. It is this kind of graduate that could help to drive innovation in the future, rather than those who are simply trained in how things have been done before.

There are an increasing number of such courses being offered by top universities, so it is up to companies to start making the most of these talented graduates, if they truly want to innovate. As for the government, it was recently moved to defend its innovation policy, insisting that a "wide range" of measures have been put in place to ensure that the UK Research Council is helping to drive business growth.

This article was written by Clayton Davis, who has been writing on businesses and the economy for over 5 years".

© Investment & Business News 2013