Indonesia is more innovative than Silicon Valley because it has a greater focus on solutions to its pain points, like traffic congestion, GO-FOOD founder Yeti Khim said this week.

"To me, a really great place that innovation comes from is pain. When you have something that's very painful or troublesome, you dream of ways that things can be better."

Speaking at the UNSW Sydney "Art and Science of Innovation" event, she said GO-JEK exists because of the pain of traffic congestion in central Jakarta.

"In Silicon Valley there are innovations happening, but it doesn't feel like they are solving the day to day things anymore. In Indonesia there are still a lot of places where technology and innovation are solving day to day problems, things as simple as getting to an event on time, getting the food you want delivered. It really enters into your day to day life."

GO-JEK began as a scooter ridesharing app and expanded into 17 different personal service businesses - including GO-FOOD (food delivery), the recently launched GO-BILLS (utility bill payment service), and GO-BEAUTY.

The BusinessThink Indonesia event, an annual leadership forum combining UNSW academic experts and Indonesian business leaders, was held at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

The audience also heard from leading neuroscientist UNSW Associate Professor Joel Pearson, who heads the UNSW Science of Innovation lab, which is developing an innovation index.

"I think we now have the technology and techniques to understand creativity, to understand intuition, to measure and understand it (and) to teach it," said Joel. "I think science can measure innovation and all of the things inside innovation."

Ernie Ginting, Culture & Transformation Manager at Pertamina, said they sourced ideas from 20,000 staff across Indonesia, creating massive value for the utility.

Pertamina's continuous improvement program, that focusses on bottom-up innovation through front line staff, ran from 2011-2015 and changed the way the company worked.

"Innovation is cultural and not just about the product," said Ernie. "The ideas come from the individual and the team. We conduct a competition for these ideas – and in the end, there are winners."

Renewal energy company SEDAYU carved out a slice of the renewal energy market by electrifying off-grid areas like Papua to deliver energy. A signatory to the Paris Protocol, the Indonesia government is supportive of the development of renewal energy alternatives.

 "The challenge here is different to Australia where the electricity price is very high," said Fendi Liem, Founder and Managing Director of SEDAYU, who studied computer science at UNSW Sydney.

"In Indonesia it is subsidised, not heavily subsidised like 5 or 6 years ago, but we are one of the lowest in the region (for electricity cost). So if we sell solar here in Java it just wouldn't make sense, so we work with the Government and then electrify the off-grid remote areas."

For more on the UNSW Sydney research behind innovation, read BusinessThink. 

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