Many organisations have read about lean start-ups and minimal viable products, are excited about applying design thinking, and have adopted agile work practices. However, often innovation remains shallow.
New business models are being hyped up as ‘disruptive’. However, upon closer examination the disruption often only amounts to a change in wallpaper.
Furthermore, in those cases where an innovative business model or product survives the first few years and becomes profitable, success is measured in traditional financial metrics, putting the needs of investors above the needs of customers, employees, and suppliers, and above the well-being of society and the ecosystem of the planet.
The dogma of financial profit and capital gains that underpins the global financial system creates a systemic bias in economic and social decision making towards faster and faster flows of economic goods.
On the surface, during times of exponential growth of the human population, the model seems to work. As soon as population growth falls behind or levels off, the financial system demands greater and greater levels of consumption to deliver the anticipated returns on capital.
Consumption levels of material goods in the so-called developed world already surpass the planet’s ability to deal with the by-products of economic growth, i.e. excessive CO2 emissions, unsustainable energy use, loss of biodiversity, and toxic substances that are released into the environment.
As long as all these effects are largely treated as irrelevant economic footnotes, attempts at innovation and related calculations of economic benefits remain fundamentally flawed.
Towards a useful working definition of deep innovation
To avoid disappointments, innovators must look at concepts such as lean start-ups and minimal viable products through a new cognitive lens. Economic externalities can no longer be ignored. Globally up to 80% of employees are disengaged from their jobs. Why? Likely because many companies can only explain the purpose of their existence in purely financial terms, if at all, by shifting all inconvenient by-products of business as usual into cognitive blind spots.
Fewer and fewer people see the point of developing, selling, and consuming products that are not sustainable in more general economic terms. In order to re-establish credibility and employee engagement, businesses must reserve the term innovative for products and services that are not only well liked amongst customers, but that also contribute to reducing the ecological footprint of humans on this planet.
Deep innovation is a wicked challenge, requiring interdisciplinary collaboration and significant amounts of original creativity.
The concept of deep innovation can be used to attach a tangible purpose to the notion of a lean start-up, beyond the shallow goal of capital gains for investors. Deep innovation results in minimal viable products that employees can identify with, for which there is a market beyond the dwindling numbers who still embrace conspicuous consumption under the guise of saving the economy.
Trivialising wicked problems by ignoring externalities is easy. Addressing wicked problems head on is a lot harder – and a lot more rewarding.
Deep innovation is required to realise any significant economic gains in New Zealand
There is no shortage of concrete challenges and opportunities:
- Agriculture – to reverse the loss of biodiversity and to eliminate or recycle the waste products caused by intensive farming
- Healthcare – to maximise pro-active health enhancing measures and to develop smarter metrics for measuring health outcomes
- Energy – to transition to a resilient and sufficiently decentralised supply of sustainable energy
- Transport and logistics – to take full advantage of emerging technologies such as self driving electric vehicles and trains, and intelligent software solutions that optimise the utilisation of vehicle fleets and transport infrastructure
- Housing – to create incentives for constructing zero-energy buildings and addressing the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel powered heating systems
- Culture – to unlearn unhelpful behavioural patterns and replace them with new behaviours that radically alter the demand profile for energy, healthcare services, and transportation, such as: establishing a preference for human powered vehicles over machine powered vehicles, working locally or via digital collaboration rather than accepting long commutes, decentralised urban agricultural production, etc.
Any gains in these areas will not only deliver local benefits, they also result in know how and technologies with significant global export potential.