Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Responsible innovation from The Hague

Things are changing.  All over the world Universities have started asking themselves a similar question: “Are we teaching our students the right things?” In addition, more and more companies are saying that they have to re-program young people before they can start participating in the innovation processes and ecosystems in a useful manner.

Along the same token, engineers are asking themselves “How can we ensure that our inventions and innovations will be used responsibly?” And it is not only about tools and models and processes. As  Jeroen Van den Hoven, the keynote speaker at the conference, has pointed out “…the key question for each innovator should be, which of the grand social challenges his/her innovation is helping to resolve”. So, are we all wrong? I realized that I should be asking myself a different question. Which are the indicators showing us that the world is changing, that it is evolving, moving on? So, instead of searching for wrights and wrongs I started to listen, even when I was giving my presentation, I was listening more that speaking, to the audience’s body language, people’s eyes, and their comments/questions.  Before I share my observations, let me first share with you the comments about the conference made by its organizers.

Photo: Ronald Ortt
Source: Archive Vibacom
V: So, what has prompted IEEE and the ICE associations to organise the yearly global event on responsible innovation and entrepreneurship? Dr. Roland Ortt: “Both of the associations had innovation on their agenda. So, we decided to join forces and to address the topic together. So, after exploring the subject we became aware that there are many unaddressed issues around the innovation; besides the happy and glorious stories there were many less successful ones. There are many trail and error cases in the field of innovation, especially in the invention phase; there are losses, bed investments, and failures on all levels of organizations and in all phases of innovation life cycle. We are constantly searching for the borders and at the same time we try to be socially responsible, too. We wanted to address that. I was also inspired by a story of an author that was invite to write about the greatness of innovation for an American magazine. He found out that not all of the innovations out there were brilliant. He also pointed out some of the side effects of innovation. Because he did not show only the glory of innovation, his article was rejected, never published. So, you can see how this topic of responsible innovation evolved. It came naturally. “

V: What do you want to achieve with the conference?
Dr. Roland Ortt:
“There were 3 types of goals that we were after:
1) the organizational goal  (connect together 2 different communities - ICE as an European organization and the IEEE crowd is an old engineering organization - addressing the topic of innovation, normally scatters over many different fields),
2) the content goal (to raise the awareness about the need for responsible innovation),
3) the structural goal (to launch an European based conference that brings people together from all over the world and has a sustainable future; at the same time we wanted to offer not only presentations but also workshops that would bring academia, public servants and businesses together at the same table).”

Photo: "A different view of the world"
Source: Archive Vibacom
The conference was really full of presentations from all over the world, opening up many interesting, general and specific topics in the field of innovation. Here is what I have learnt and re-confirmed:
  • Responsible innovation is becoming a serious topic in engineering circles: even though that you can hear comments like engineers are here to solve technical challenges, or army is holding back many excellent technical solutions that people could benefit from, the overall atmosphere was very much in favour of responsible innovation and entrepreneurship, and systemic thinking; all three should be included as part of engineering education programs all over the world.
  • There are many similar challenges appearing all over the world: like, how to engage people in an effective bottom-up approach, how to increase the level of responsibility, how to shorten the development cycle and make it more responsible, how to recognize the real needs that have a long term effect, how to bring ethical and cultural characteristics into product development, etc.
  • We are still not really making a lot of effort to learn from each other; we are still mostly informing each other about what we do, and less search for possible solutions that might exist around the world. We still try to re-invent everything by ourselves. However, when we do that, we often imbed in our solutions the old mindsets and the old mental architectures, missing an opportunity to learn from the global pool of knowledge that already exists out there.  In other words, there is a really interesting opportunity for cross-structural exchange of challenges and solutions. I strongly believe that it is time to connect better and use effectively all the knowledge and experiences that we have as a global community, to address at least the common global challenges.
  • I can see that with globalization and open systems more and more challenges are becoming non linear, and unpredictable in a sense of established understandings of co-dependencies. There is a need for a new type of educational systems that are sensitive for the new conditions and opportunities. Education that will equip people with knowledge about systemic view, about sustainable innovation concepts, about the consequences of development. Education that will encourage people to create new, sustainable visions for the ”flat” world we live in.
  • And some additional messages:
a.    Focus on pains: “Build a team around the key pains. Responses from your customers are not the end of your product story”,
b.    Recognize the true nature of entrepreneurship: “Entrepreneurship is not about management”. There is a large difference between the knowledge and tools that one needs to master to be a successful entrepreneur, comparing to those that one needs as a successful manager. One of the most harming steps in the entrepreneurial path is to push an entrepreneur to start the new business by writing a business plan; similarly harmful situation appears when an entrepreneur does not step away when the company is big and matured enough to be lead by a manager,
c.    Resource based product platform: “Resources are an input factor for a product platform development. At the same time product platforms are important part of company’s resources. For a development of products it is good to have a resource based product platform to act efficiently and quickly.“,
d.    I-Schools: There is a realm of new skills, competences, concepts, and models that we need to support the emerging world of innovation. The new concepts like, ”design thinking”, “agile software development”, “lean entrepreneurship”, “systemic thinking”, etc.”, as stated by Nathan Furr, are emerging faster in practice than in academia; they are challenging the educational systems to refocus and follow the needs of people,
e.    Content alignment: There is an increasing need for joining the world of values, norms, ideas, ethics, and principles, together with the world of artefacts, architecture, materials, standards, and systems into a common solution for the core issues of our society,
f.    Mass innovation: there is a growing need for mass innovation, collaborative networks, and spontaneous engagements, when new challenges appear. When I presented Vibacom’s experiences and the InCo findings I realised, that in many circles they still do not differentiate mass innovation and collaborative networks. However, with a growing need for the bottom-up innovation and the already accepted needs for collaborative networks, the world is gradually moving towards a development of mass innovation ecosystems.
Mass innovation – a critical number of people (more than 30%) from an organization involved in innovation processes.
Collaborative networks – two or more people involved  in cooperation.
(Vibacom, 2012)
And I? One of the most important reasons for me to be part of this global conference was to share my views and to see what others are doing; to position my work within the global community, to learn and to allow others to learn from me. I am grateful for the invitation. And I can say, that in Slovenia we are challenging the right borders and contributing valuable experiences and visions to the global family of progressive knowledge. I re-confirmed that we are jointly moving towards the visions of a thrivable planet.

The Hague 2013
Source: Archive Vibacom
Let’s continue with our contributions, and the openness for cooperation and co-creation.

Let me end this issue of Aktualno 2.0 with the key message from the Dean of Leiden University from his welcoming speech, “We need to become stronger in visions and weaker in boundaries”.  How true.

Oj, Violeta

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