Humans play an interesting role in this technology enabled socially integrated world. Making sense of how to leverage this enablement is paramount in building the “new” business. We are only at the beginning at a major shift in human collective activity. I try to give some answers in Built to Thrive.
social based innovation
No matter how much we accept the constant nature of change or subconsciously adapt to it, we still structure our lives around faint delusions of stability. Up until recent times, the modern individual’s ultimate endeavour has been the ownership of property. A house stands as the definitive symbol of success and the by-product of a capitalist economy. We buy cars in much the same manner, and, but to a lesser degree of importance, we buy products in general. The purchase of a once revolutionary product, the answering machine, is almost unheard of today. The voicemail service is free so why buy the product? A house can be leased more easily than it can be bought, as can a car, and the utilisation of the service without owning the product, means the burden of ownership in times of low market interest is no longer yours to shoulder. Ownership of product serves to illustrate one of the ways in which we structure our lives in the hopes of maintaining some permanence – a structure that is currently under construction.
It is evident that change continuously and relentlessly disrupts our structured lives built on these optimistic illusions of stability. So if we know this, denial of the obvious cannot be the only factor that holds us back from reconfiguring the way in which we live. There are many reasons why humans are resistant to change and they differ from situation to situation and setting to setting, but there is one all-encompassing and pervasive reason why a symbiotic relationship between us and the phenomenon of change does not exist – a lack of knowledge of what change really is.
Why does society and human behaviour manifest in the way it does? Why have charities become such a massive movement, where a few centuries ago, selfishness and individual gain predominated in the human consciousness? Why do people expend their energy, knowledge and time to submit articles to Wikipedia, for the world to access for free, and for no compensation? Why do some bands provide their music as free downloads off their websites? There is a very visible phenomenon occurring around us, fuelled by the access provided by technological change, and driven by a people with more time to make sense of the world and find meaning, the collective consciousness is being born. We are finding ourselves to be part of a system that is not made up merely of smaller, independent and unrelated societies, but rather an ecosystem wherein all human activity and experience is interconnected, interdependent and interactive. What tops it all is that information has become an integrated commodity where access to once secret inventions, stories and beliefs are now scattered onto a tapestry of technological devices giving society at large increasing access to it.
As we move into the future how should we envisage ourselves in the context of this change, as part of a larger living, changing and evolving organism that is human society, and how do we make sense of the future, based on these current happenings? I find that the approaches of the past are far too hierarchical and organized, social based innovation is emergent and socially embedded.
I’ve had some push-back on my views about socially driven innovations and that in turn means a push back on open innovation. When “The Process Innovation Imperative” was written (leading up to 2002), the 4th Generation of R&D was in full swing. The focus was on using learning theories and knowledge based approaches to drive new innovations. I do not think that learning is less important today, it is just more imbedded in the make-up of our organizations as we are educated on the possibilities of what this can bring. With regards to 4th Gen R&D, the premise of getting the customer more involved in your business is a modern phenomena; and here to stay.
Some pertinent questions are being raised in light of a more open and transparent approach to innovation:
1. Our culture and organization does not function like this, so how will this work?
2. Our industry does not work like this, where can it be applied?
3. As an innovation leader I have no control over the more federally designed business units, how open can we be?
There are some undeniable evidence that movements towards a more open world is moving at a consistent pace. We do, as humans, have a problem in telling the future though. Our mental pictures of what’s possible are always different to those views of what actually happen. the result is that when we look back things don’t look so well crafted and planned.
Look at “Back to the future” Marty McFly arrived in the future (a few days ago) after hitting 88mph in a Delorean in 1985. What were you thinking about innovation in 1985? Remember the hovering skateboard?
There are some signs of change, especially those that are socially driven, that normally go unnoticed. This one isn’t; we are in a world where humans demand rights, want to be treated well, and feel they have the right to the benefit of their actions. Having just experienced the soccer world cup in South Africa, I once again feel that a movement like “against racism” is driving a society to believe (rightfully so) that inequality is wrong and that individuals should be valued.
A colleague just returned from China (Guangzhou an economic powerhouse). He found that after interviewing some prominent business leaders the result was quite clear. “So, why do you want to do open innovation again?” Let’s leave it at that for now…