Perhaps why innovation feels somewhat flat (well for me) is our organizations and societies are utterly failing to allow us all to step up in innovation to tackle the massive, growing problems that are swirling all around us.
We need to shake out of our lethargy and really begin to attempt to solve the real issues of our time. Some organizations are clearly working on and trying to draw attention and gain greater engagement but we need a much greater concerted effort to focus on the big societal challenges.
Global warming, rising health issues, finally cracking cancer, malaria, dementia, finding different solutions to the ageing within society. How are we going to tackle the rapidly depleting natural resources, the future conflicts over water, food, or energy . These are big, hairy, audacious gaps to be resolved.
Many are avoiding the need too stare hard into the future as we are not re-equipping everyone with skills that combine inventiveness, innovation and creativity that contributes into their communities, we have got stuck in the “me”. A reality of depletion is racing towards us and it is not a pretty sight.
The growing radical innovation activity gap
We are facing the innovation gap as our problems keep growing linearly yet we must find ways to rapidly scale and deploy our knowledge in new, more dynamic ways. This requires society to learn how to apply effective innovation themselves, not just being whipped up, waiting for the latest gadget or incremental advancement to be put into their hands.
We need to build the desire of wanting to be part of rebuilding society; making our contribution to real advancement or feeling they were there, involved, part of the “times” when this shift to societal innovation was happening.
We need to be collectively moved by innovation and what it can offer.
Technology does hold a vital key, so does the emerging social media for reaching out to critical masses but let’s face it, today we are deploying the best resources (the best and the brightest) not in the area on solving big societal problems but in slavishly churning out the next technology or gadget. These actually mean nothing unless they become increasingly part of the solutions we really do need urgently, to tackle the big societal issues.
We certainly need communications, platforms, different media techniques and mobility as part of the initial global building blocks to putting in place the infrastructures to solve these societal problems. We need the tools, infrastructure, methods, and techniques to scale for solving societal problems not the latest incremental improvement for Apple, Facebook or Google. How about providing innovations that can deliver the parts that give us the power to tackle the problems of our time?
We need innovation tools, structures and methods that will allow us each of us to invent, to innovate, and to be creative in finding our contributions and solutions to societal problems. To go and apply these in practical solutions not just simply adopt them.
I liked what Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup recently said: “What’s going to make it more likely for someone to start a start-up in the first place?” “Open data is one such thing. If you give people access to the tools, the information about what’s happening in the world, you give them the opportunity to stumble on more novel solutions”
I’d add you give them the empowerment and skills, they will provide the desire and energy.
Then we have the hidden potential behind social media and big data
Can you imagine a world where we all can communicate and contribute into these global societal problems. Combine technology, the internet and social media and you have begun to connect up the parts or the whole planet. The exciting prospect is then ‘feeding’ all this data into finding patterns for solutions. Solutions that are relevant to you, your immediate community but also to the wider ones.
The ability to scale, glocalize, adapt and diffuse
Social innovation struggles today with scale and replicating success in one place and making it work in another. This replicating might be the barrier, perhaps we should not apply other solutions just extract the parts that can work for us. This extraction needs knowing what is valuable to you or applicable, what is not. The need is to educate everyone to ‘break down’ the context and we need to teach numerous different skills to allow this to work. Then you need to work on where are the synergies that can be tailored and applied to local needs. Diffusion and adoption comes into the picture here too.
Dealing with value creation and growth but in radically different ways
We seek value creation, most usually by creating demand, pushing for increasing consumption. Growth is measured by our productive gains. Is this the right way to measure ourselves and how we set about preserving our precious resources? No, we need to challenge this, a real paradigm shift that alters our lenses looking out on the world.
Changing our thinking for a new world of preserving our precious resources
Today’s modern economic activity does need challenging and it is through rethinking much of our view of judging success. Success in preserving, in effectively trading precious resources needs a fresh set of thinking, a new economic understanding. This thinking is way beyond my preserve, there are far better qualified people to offer suggestions than me on this. All I know is that innovation, creativity and invention must all play their part.
Some of my emerging thoughts relating to where innovation can fit are:
1). Stepping back and putting innovation to its better use
We have a world were transparency is finding its place. We ‘witness’ unfolding events faster than ever, they are nearly instantaneous. Governments are really struggling on this new transparency. We can manage this in new ways, instead of trying to control the flow of ‘selective’ data through repression. We need to open up all the positive activities occurring every day that others can learn from. We need to focus on the positives, not dwell on the negatives.
2). We need to provide places for experimentation
There needs to be places, instruments, resources, knowledge platforms that help us all to discover. We need a dynamic flow to discover needs, expose variability, enable experimentation to happen and construct ways to measure improved performance
3). We need to granulate and customize activities
The world is far to big to manage as one, even our countries struggle in adapting policies. We constantly reduce down the positive impact by this ‘crazy’ compromise of adjusting great ideas to meet the broader position. We need to segment down, we need to allow what has the best impact for a given community to be allowed to happen.
4). We need to put to use the non human aspects to speed up decision-making
Computers, sophisticated analytics, automated algorithms all can play their part in any redesign of our activities to preserve our critical resources. Modelling decisions that have impact within the world need to be more freely distributed. Not only knowing our ‘footprint’ on the planet but bringing together communities footprints and redesigning the sharing of the burden. We can optimize so much to help us develop better decisions, knowing the broader impact placed upon communities and beyond.
5). Innovating the future needs new business models, products and services
The growing movement in a number of more enlightened businesses towards only using renewal resources is gathering momentum. It is changing business models, products and services. We need to change from being a ‘throw away’ society into ones that re-use, repair and don’t chase increasing consumption but work to reduce consumption to save energy, water, critical resources etc. We do need a far more radical innovating agenda.
Connecting into the already under way experiments and improving them
There are many different ways we can apply innovation into tackling today’s real societal problems, there are lots of experiments under-way, we somehow need to connect into them in global ways.
We need to make the real efforts of connecting all these dots – we need to design a world where surplus has to be rapidly replaced with managing dwindling stocks. It calls for a concerted, connected and comprehensive manner where technology, ingenuity and our innate ability to be creative, innovative and determined to discover real breakthroughs that can contribute to solving societal issues.
The place our innovation focus has to go is in global engagement
We need to know far more of where to go, what to connect into, how we can contribute. We need to engage society across a broader agenda of our challenges. Today these are diverse, dispersed, dissipated and disparate set of activities.
We need to bring these together, perhaps to form a new ‘collective’ world organizational as a body that consolidates, connects and diffuses societal challenges. One that is not layered with bureaucracy and governmental nominees but one powered by a new social platform that allows each of us to connect and explore, to learn and engage.
This needs to be built more than likely by the millennial generation, who are clearly seeing societal challenges as their global innovation task to tackle and resolve. They are more than likely better equipped to understand social engagement and learn to connect and deliver the tools to do the jobs into everyone’s hands. They understand the power of ‘connection’ through today’s application of technology, social platforms and application of the knowledge being learnt and adopted in practical use. We need them to engage and lead.
What do we need to do to lift innovation onto that slope of enlightenment?
We need to firstly acknowledge our growing global problems that need tackling through more radical application and solutions. We need to learn to scale, learn, deploy, apply– we need to put our own intelligence into innovation. We need to move the innovation needle significantly, individually and collectively.
Relying on organizations providing their solutions in a radically different world of challenges where they are stuck in delivering their steady state of ‘ever consuming’ incremental thinking is not good enough. We need a new evolution and revolution, applying new innovation thinking by putting radical innovation solutions back on the global agenda that reduce our throw away consumption and focus on preserving what we have.
We need to regain a collective sense of momentum and a belief that we are truly working on something that changes our lives and helps save the resources we need to live in this world.