Fast-forward into the Innovation Future

In my last posting ( I spoke of the innovation fog surrounding me and that I was losing my orientation. This had caused me to press the ‘pause’ button so as to wait and allow the fog to lift. Then I could rely on my innovation compass a little bit more with confidence as it points again towards the future of innovation.

Well, only 24 hours later the fog was blown away and powerfully so. Do you believe in serendipity, that gift of making fortunate discoveries? Well it has certainly risen up the “I believe” scale for me. Over the last weekend I was catching up on the emails and I had one sent to me by ISPIM, a network of researchers, industrialists, consultants and public bodies, who share an interest in innovation management.

ISPIM had sent me their latest “Innovation Watch- issue 1-2013” and in this there was a timely (well clearly for me) article from Karl-Heinz Leitner, a Senior Scientist with the Austrian Institute of Technology, entitled  Innovation Futures: How Will We Innovate in the Future?

The article reminded me of his work that he had been co-ordinating between 2009 and 2012, funded by the EU FP7 on a foresight project on the future of innovation (INFU). It can be explored under the web page where I then spent a few hours reminding myself of this work that I had picked up upon in the past but somehow had forgotten or become buried under other innovation activities that help pay my bills.

So fast-forward into the innovation future

After my comments about hearing different “weak signals” here was a report blowing the whistle directly into my ear. So I climbed into the report, all 144 pages of it (well almost) and emerged out of this journey sometime in the middle of this week after I had completed much of my work-on-hand.

The clear message was the “evidence was there, all around us, that there was changing innovation patterns, more evolutionary than radical”. There are new forms of innovation, novel emerging concepts, ideas and strategies of how innovation is organized or possibly will be.

The report had a very systematic approach with the team looking out across the possible future innovation landscape so this could raise awareness and allow for a debate on these possible innovation patterns and their implications and might give a ‘momentum of change’. Lets work through some of its findings.

The innovation future project process

The process first undertook the identification of these emerging signals of change that were coming through current innovation patterns (the weak signals) with the aim of identifying newly emerging apparent and visible ones that may not have reached mainstream but may have disruptive impacts for industry, the economy and society in the future.

The work identified 68 signals of change pointing towards emerging innovation patterns and were already visible but not in the mainstream but had a positive trending to them.  Out of this the INFU research team generated and visualised twenty (20) innovation visions. They arrived at these by formulating, amplifying and combining some of the original signals.

After this the team provoked discussions across a community, conducted interviews with industrial and academic experts, provided an on-line survey to discuss and access the innovation visions.

The end result through clustering and consolidating the twenty even further down they ended up with a final result of eight (8) final visions or nodes of change.

These eight visions were confronted with different socio-economic framework conditions and global mega-trends to finally synthesize scenarios of these final and possible innovation futures.

So the report views these as the drivers they presume to have the most decisive influence on the future evolution of the innovation process. Of course this future landscape will be shaped by individuals, society, organizations, the eventual economics, and by policy but these final eight seem to be emerging.

Firstly the dimensions of change – the consequences and implications

Before we get into this final eight there are seemingly common opportunities, risks and consequences that were observed coming out of this work. These can be summarized in seven statements offered as having consequences and implications to manage:

  • There will be new forms of coordination and mediation – existing models will be challenged by growing coordination mechanisms, such as self-organizing communities or web-based co-design platforms. These today are seen to be on the rise. The emerging ones will present challenges on who is in control of these. The present reality is that our business organizations are not well set up in the emerging competences required, suffer considerable inertia and in-grained difficulties and barriers to change their cultures, to learn and adapt.
  • There will be a wider participation with the increasing trend of citizens and customers gaining increasing relevance to influence innovation, both in deciding the priorities and contributing to the innovation process. Co-creation will require more instruments, tools and techniques’ to enable this effectively. They are warning too much participation and too little coordination may slow down the innovation process and this growing consensual solutions ends up offering even lower innovativeness.
  • The motivation for innovation will be changing. The dominant aspect up to now has been company profits but with growing and complex societal and environmental problems becoming increasingly important, these will influence and become far more the driving force to innovate. This will push organizations to develop even more new (hybrid) business models to integrate all the parties making up part of these complex solutions, in the balancing out of the monetary with the non-monetary returns. We will also test the limits of participation.
  • The increasing use of technology and software will seek ways to automatise innovation far more, where the current “creep” of algorithms, web crawler technology or simulation techniques to access market potential and others, will have the increased implication on the place and what’s left in space for human creativity. Equally the increased security issues and maintenance of these will be equally at some degree of variance with human imagination.
  • There will be a growth of grand challenges but as eco-innovation pushes up the agenda we will likely see a growing movement towards sustainable solutions balancing production and consumption far more, or imposing constraints so more circular flows of cradle-to-cradle innovation becomes the possible model to control. Again we need to reflect on where scaling, transfer and standardisation come into play. Seeking optimisation becomes one of the biggest challenges to tackle.
  • A possible move towards an innovation society? We will also begin to change within society on the perception of creativity? Do we become more of an innovation society but as we explore this we might have growing negative aspects of innovation fatigue or heaviness in the leadership expecting innovation.
  • Lastly the significant shifts taking place of where innovation will eventually reside. Will the West become more of the fast follower, the adapter to the innovations emerging from the East? Where will the regional shifts take innovation, how will this evolve? Is the current innovation approach regarded as too ‘Western’ and the East modifies or changes our thinking and approaches to how we innovate? We are equally moving more towards GLocalisation in design, approaches and solutions. The race to anchor ‘specific capabilities’ into a country or a region will become more intense.

I think these all have growing implications for thinking through innovation. They each offer challenges, risks and opportunities. What is sure the pace and direction of innovation will change as the pressure to consider societal needs become increasingly important.

We need to also look far more at the unintended and negative consequences of the consistent, increasingly relentless demand for innovation. It risks having a growing undesirable aspect that needs increasing awareness and factoring into the push for “anything new”.

The eight elaborated innovation visions and open questions arising

I have not discussed the 20 innovation visions here, I will do that in a further posting but for now we focus on the eight consolidated innovation visions labelled under the “nodes of change” that achieved a degree of consensus- These were then explored in “mini- panel visions” to indicate a depth in the details associated with each, their drivers and barriers to begin to sketch out a desirable future based on these innovation futures. The eight selected were:

Deliberative Innovation

It seems widely expected that citizens will play a greater role both in governing and implementing innovation activities. How will the new type of “deliberative innovation” be governed, what will be the outcomes?

Innocamp Society

Innovation Camps where people gather for specific innovation tasks of a certain duration are becoming increasingly popular. Many experts see a high potential for such camps as key enablers of creative solutions both in a business and civil society environment. Often the idea is linked to the open source society where a number of products and services are developed in close interaction among users source society where a number of products and services are developed in close interaction among users

Social Experimentation

Social innovation is becoming more recognised as highly relevant for developing innovative solutions addressing societal challenges. New modes of innovation are required to align social and technological innovation activities. Participatory experimentation will play a key role but what are the right instruments and levels required for successful solutions?

Automatised Innovation

A number of new techniques such as semantic web analysis allow for automatising parts of the innovation process from idea generation via design and testing. What are the implications for economy and society?

Widespread Innovation

Innovation is becoming mandatory for more and more people in companies and other types of organisations. How can we avoid “innovation overload” and “innovation divide”? What does it mean to live in an environment that is constantly innovating?

Open Innovation City

Cities are increasingly expected to play a major role as innovation drivers. In particular systemic sustainability innovations may best be implemented on a city level. What are adequate mechanisms for cities to reap the benefits of this potential?

Global Innovation Chain Integration

Innovation is expected to become globally dispersed. But what will be the mechanisms to integrate all the distributed and diverse elements and to match ideas and solutions with problems and needs?

Waste-Based Innovation

The establishment of innovation patterns that are fully consistent with a circular flow of resources was unanimously assessed as top priority in the INFU experts’ dialogue. However, many challenges are associated with this vision. How can novelties emerge out of used products, what kind of consumer types are associated with the pattern?

I’ll leave the summing up to Karl-Heinz Leitner, the coordinator for the project

“To summarise, the future of innovation will be more open, socially, and environmentally driven, while being faster and global at the same time. However, it would be too easy, too simple and too generic a conclusion to leave it that way.

INFU (the study) has revealed a much more diverse and broad future for innovation, indicating some tensions and ambivalent developments. We will see more participation, even though the question arises as to when the limits of participation are reached and when too much participation just results in lukewarm solutions, or may slow down the innovation process altogether.

Due to the enormous acceleration of innovation, companies tend to “over-engineer” their products in order to be competitive and thereby lose track of their main objectives: to be able to reap the benefits of their innovativeness and to meet their customers’ real needs at their best”

My final thoughts

For me, of course there are many futures but innovation is clearly “top of mind” to seek out growth, to create future wealth, with many of the forces we are seeing today as those that will shape the long-term future of innovation. Yet there is going to be increasing tensions different than the ones we are discussing today. The questions of saturation, of tackling pressing societal issues, the growing trend for community or crowd participation can have negative effects on generating worthwhile innovation that is truly beneficial to society.

The whole issue of unintended and undesirable consequences gets largely brushed aside, sacrificed on the positive hype of  the good of innovation. Are we going to see increasing ambivalence, mixed emotions as surely much of our current innovation remains misdirected and purely profit motivated? Will the pace of innovation slow down or continue to speed up? Who will decide?

Innovation to be managed for societal good, needs a far more coordinated effort from all those involved: our business organizations, their customers and what they really need, from our citizens, scientists, from communities we belong too and finally through policy makers. It is through policy shaping that innovation can be directed but will it be forced or go willingly?

Future uncertainty can also bring on a certain new fog can’t it? Oh boy!

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