A New Manifesto for Innovation
Everything i thought – and taught – about innovation was wrong.
That sounds way too sensationalistic, and it probably is. But the drama of that statement is certainly rooted in truth.
Allow me to explain.
Several years ago, I got enamored with the concept of ‘innovation’.
So much so, in fact, that it became a personal buzzword, advocacy, unifying battle-cry.
I read all the books and delved into all of the websites. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Innovator’s Dilemma. Innovation : The Five Disciplines. Closing the Innovation Gap. Innovation to the Core. Open Innovation. Innovation Nation. Innovation X. If the book had the word ‘innovation’ in its title (even the sub-title), it had a 90% chance of ending up on my bookshelf.
I would get indoctrinated in the religion of IDEO (the Shopping Cart video and the innovation bibles, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation). In fact, it was a dream come true when I met Brian Quebengco and became a partner in the industrial design firm, Inovent.
For a time, some really cool friends and I put up Kolektib – an Innovation Hub in the creative hustle-and-bustle of Cubao X. We did Innovation Workshops internally and externally. It was an exquisitely fun time.
Even social entrepreneurship, for me, was a form of innovation – albeit social innovation.Hapinoy and Rags2Riches are expressions of melding social development with business models, a rather revolutionary approach which would certainly qualify as innovating.
I eventually synthesized my knowledge. I wound up conceptualizing, creating, and teaching a class in Ateneo on Innovation. It would tackle the why’s, the what’s, the how’s of the topic. I wanted to transmit the spirit to a next generation of innovators which would try to conquer and/or change the world.
The one line i always wanted my students to remember : Innovate or Die.
But beginning last year, my innovation lens would slowly shift. Not on a different tangent, but rather on a different depth.
I’m significantly more experienced and quite wiser. For all intents and purposes, I’ve changed. But more importantly, the world has changed at a mind-spinning rate – far outstripping my own evolution.
The first decade of the 21st Century was characterized by dizzying change, hyper-competition, unbridled growth – all of the factors that led to an innovation explosion. Globalization was at full-swing, the Internet began to fulfill its promise of changing everything.
And everything seemed possible. Growth was so palpable and reachable, and so businesses began pouncing on the massiveness of the opportunity. Driven by sheer momentum, they just plowed full steam ahead.
An innovation avalanche would ensue.
Innovation and Design consultancies would have a field day. So many new products, services, processes, and business models would emerge. I should know – it’s what I taught :
How Zara had reinvented the supply chain, allowing them to launch new fashion lines at lightning speed.
How the Wii would tackle the Blue Ocean of game consoles, beating the higher-performing Xbox 360 and Playstations by going on a different tangent and tackling non-gamers.
How Procter & Gamble used Open Innovation and launched connect + develop, unleashing a torrent of growth for their brands under AG Lafley’s watch.
More consumers were opening their wallets, and companies were feasting.
But towards the end of the decade, the world would undergo yet another step-change, perhaps an even larger one than the last.
Crises of global proportions would enter the lexicon.
A financial crisis would infect the world over, leading to national economies teetering on the brink. It was a full-blown meltdown and it washed over countries like a worldwide tsunami.
And speaking of tsunamis, the world became a real-life disaster movie. Environmentalists have been banging the alarm bells on the planet for so long, but it’s certainly only in the past few years that climate change has become real to the person on the street. When Typhoon Ondoy hit the Philippines, it was a shock to the system – it dumped one month’s worth of rain in half a day, causing floods in areas we never imagined were possible.
This climate change crisis is of course linked to to the energy crisis – our over-dependence on carbon-based fuels. Generations ago it wasn’t tangible, but now we see just how finite non-renewable energy is. It’s like we’ve got lung cancer and yet ironically still need two packs of smokes a day just to keep on moving.
And while all this was happening, the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen. The proportion of the world’s population that survives under $2 a day still goes between a third to one-half of the total human race! (depending on which statistics you look at). Without a doubt, the population and poverty crises continues to rear its ugly head.
And so in the span of a decade, we went from an age of seemingly unbridled growth … and plummeted into an age of uncertainty. An Age of Massively Complex Problems.
And that’s why a nagging feeling in my gut gradually snowballed, until my lens shifted.
I remember some of the projects that were conceptualized in my Innovation Class. A better kind of toothpaste. Refillable packaging for laundry detergents. Heck, even an innovative cigarette that would light without matches. Of course there were some that were more interesting – especially those who were in the social innovation track.
But with all due respect to my former students, it was the teacher who was at fault. We were thinking too small. We were throwing our energies at the wrong things.
Power is useless, if misdirected. Same goes for Innovation.
Innovation is good at tackling any problem, but it can be so much greater if it tackled the right ones.
And so I’m drawing a line on the sand, demarcating where my old thinking ends and my new perspective begins :
The only problems worth solving, worth investing your life in, are meaningful ones.
In an Age of Massively Complex Problems, do we really need to design a better toothbrush?
Do we still want to use innovation to drive unbridled growth and overconsumption, for things that people don’t really need but we’d just want them to buy?
Do we want to continue ransacking the planet with novel products that don’t really add anything extraordinary to people’s lives?
I say, that may have its place in the world, but certainly not in mine.
I will invest my time, my resources, my life, in innovation that, frankly, matters.
Meaningful innovation that adds real value to people’s lives, that tackles real problems plaguing individuals, society, and the world.
A lot of Big Problems. A lot of Big Opportunities. A lot of Big Innovations needed.
I call this new evolution of my definition, Innovation(+). Innovation plus, Innovation positive, Innovation with meaning.
The time has come for us to put collective energies into innovations that can create positive differences in people’s lives, for society, and the world at large.
We need platforms for participation; Heck let’s take it a step further as Platforms for Activation – where people are actively engaged in helping things move not just onwards, but upwards.
And so it’s in these specific challenges that I will be investing my energies on :
1. Social Innovations at the Base-of-the-Pyramid
– How can we co-create business models, products, and services that serve essential needs for those that live under $2/day?
– How can we make the poor active participants and co-creators in the common drive to get them out of poverty?
2. Development of Technologies, Products, and Services that Positively Advance the Human Condition
– How can we create new innovations in education, healthcare, energy, and communications that sustainably serve the needs of this generation and the next?
– How do we use innovation and design thinking to tackle everyday problems of society – traffic gridlock, transportation, crime, as some examples? (in fact, IDEO has evolved Design Thinking into tackling Big Problems – just look at Open IDEO).
– How can the Big Brands, Big Products, and Big Services reinvent themselves into positively advancing the human condition?
3. Harnessing the Web for Massive Connection, Collaboration, and Change
– As I mentioned earlier – how do we create Platforms for Activation? I can think of no better example than how Iceland recently engaged its citizens to write the constitution.
– How can we use web to either rebuild or create new institutions? Financial institutions, Educational Institutions, Healthcare Institutions, even Governments?
4. A New Kind of Society
– How do we transition a paradigm shift from the traditional economics of GDP into one that measures happiness and prosperity?
– How do we go from unbridled production-consumption-growth into true, sustainable living?
– How do we balance the currents of globalization, localization, and community?
5. Innovating for The Planet
– There’s just no way getting around tackling the Climate Crisis head-on, it’s quite simply the biggest problem that we as a collective species have to contend with.
– In fact, I love what Al Gore writes in his new book/app ‘Our Choice’. In addressing the Climate Crisis, he wants ‘to make the rescue of civilization the central organizing principle of our politics, economics, and action.’
So there. A new personal roadmap, a clearer direction, a manifesto on where I wish Innovation+ will go. Where it will take us, or where we can drive it towards.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by technologist Alan Kay – “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Such wise words in an Age of Massively Complex Problems, an age which needs more and more of us to do Innovation(+).