Innovation of Innovation (Innovation²)

Innovation is not easy. If we look at the numbers it shows that it is hard to get innovations into the mainstream for a long period of time.
  • 9 out of 10 startups fail.
  • 7.5 out of 10 venture-backed startups fail.
  • 2 out of 10 new businesses fail in the first year of operations.
Likely, this is the situation where we were confronted with singular changes rather than the convergence of changes that we are starting to see.
Many people now expect that especially technology innovation will be the snake oil, the miracle that will get us out the crises.
I think that is an unrealistic expectation.
Yes, we need innovation, but innovation itself needs to be innovated in order to play its essential role in Saving Our Society.
Here are some of the main reasons why we need to innovate innovation itself.
  • There is a lack of innovation itself. Duncan Wardle (previously innovation @Disney – BNR big five podcast 01/2021) shares the barriers to innovation:
    1. 1.
      We don’t have time to think.
    2. 2.
      We are risk averse, we have quarterly results to meet.
    3. 3.
      We say we are customer centric, but we are really product centric, we care more about quarterly results.
    4. 4.
      Our ideas get killed in the approval process.
    5. 5.
      We all have a different definition of innovation and a different process, therefor we are heading in different directions. The challenges we face require coordinated and integrated innovation, globally.
  • There is a lack of prioritization. What is needed is a global prioritization of innovation. What are the most urgent problems that need innovation? By prioritizing, also the resources can be effectively assigned. It would be a massive step forward if we align the global innovation efforts with the Global Challenges as mentioned in the beginning of this paper.
  • There is a lack of coordination. Globally there are startups and other initiatives working on the same problems and similar solutions, without consulting each other. For example, the storage of clean energy or stopping food waste (many companies are working on this). If those efforts are coordinated we can move much faster and save money and resources.
  • There is a lack of integration. By working on innovation in isolation, one innovation might negatively impact other areas. E.g. the increased use of electric vehicles (EV) drives the need for more electricity. But if that electricity comes from fossil fuels, the overall impact is negative. The IEA’s most recent report found the steepest ever increase in global electricity demand last year was stoked by a 9% increase in coal use compared with the year before.
What is needed is a harmony of innovations that strengthen each other.
Here is an example of an integral approach for the food system.
  • The psychology, the behavior (and irrationality) of prospects and clients is not addressed. It is assumed that everyone acts logically, which is a huge mistake. The exception is social media where people’s behavior is manipulated to get more and better data. We need to enable positive and sustainable behavior change. That requires user engagement from the very beginning. Morality should be a driving force for the innovation itself.
  • Incubators and accelerators mainly use checklists and prescriptions. They don’t acknowledge that innovation is both an art and a science.
  • VC’s put too high expectations on ventures and have the wrong metrics.
  • Most innovations are just improvements like new versions of smartphones. Or innovation that add very little value to the grander scheme of things. For example, I recently spoke to a lady who wants to introduce an alcohol-free beer on the German market and show people that you can then also be social and have fun. I would think that she can make better use of her talents.
  • The 'fake it until you make it' culture is still alive and well - as is the repressive culture of secrecy and the aggressive use of NDAs for employees. It's a model that has its advantages - and helps churn out extremely valuable and sometimes innovative companies. But it also means the ingredients are still in place for another Theranos scandal.
  • The largest obstacle in companies is still politics.
It is sad that in innovation we waste of lot of time, effort, energy, talent and money. Smart guys and girls are working on the wrong projects, projects that won’t address the key problems in society. On the contrary, much work in innovation adds to the problems instead.
However, if you collaborate you can work much faster and be much more effective.
We rapidly need to start with the innovation of innovation itself!