Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I’m so fed up with ”innovation”

I write a bi-weekly column for the Danish edition of computerworld. Here's a sample in translation:

It’s hard to have a civilized discussion these days without using the term ”innovation”. We all know the refrain: We are living in different times, and in the future we will all have to be creative for a living.
...I think we’ve all pretty much understood that by now.
The problem with the word ”innovation” is that it suggests that we’re all going to run around spewing great ideas 8 hours a day. While in fact it’s a much broader set of competences that we need.

In primary schools one uses the term ”litteracies”, to describe the basic skills that are necessary in order to get by in society. In Denmark the law emphasizes 5 litteracies: reading, writing, math, English as second language, and basic IT skills. If you lack one or more of these, you will experience that the doors to further learning are shut.

What’s considered basic litteracies obviously changes as the conditions in society change. As we shift from the industrial society to a networked society we will need to acquire a number of new, basic competences to supplement the old litteracies. I would argue that it’s really this new set of competencies that’s being called for, when politicians, business leaders and columnists demand that we learn to be ”innovative”.

I realize that the following will sound pretty theoretical, but, put briefly, I believe that the competences we need are about understanding the new game rules in a globally connected, complex, dynamic system.

The world is being ever tighter coupled and developments in completely different areas increasingly affect eachother. Furthermore, changes in the global system are accellerating, as each new technical development makes us capable of taking the next step forward even faster.
This makes it crucial to have mechanisms like evolution, non-linearity, feedback, self-organization and ecology completely internalized in the way we assess situations and act in accordance with the realities of today and the coming years. One needs to be familiar with these mechanisms in order to understand such phenomena as the internet, international politics, a market place or how a living system – like our own body – functions.

Paradoxically, we are experiencing an increasing individualization concurently with the growing connectivity and interdependence. Ever more of us are reaching a level of education and wealth at which we can start demanding a high degree of individual freedom and service. However, this freedom implies a growing personal responsibility. All of us must learn to be pro-active and manage a personal strategy of development – for instance by maintaining our level of knowledge and our health.
The world has become interactive. In contrast to the dominating mass culture of industrialism we are now increasing co-creators – and thus co-responsible – for the relevance of our work and for the shaping of the products and service we use. We can’t get by like in the industrial age, relying on top-down hierachies in which most people just did what they were told to do.

We need a new approach which is compatible with the new conditions of this new age. At a fundamental level it’s about seeing change as the natural state of affairs. Increasingly, we will produce and consume processes, that are continuously adjusted to fit the users changing contexts at a speed that approaches realtime.
Thus, we need to get accustomed and feel at ease thinking in terms of probabilities and adhoc solutions rather than certainties and stability. In order to participate in the global interaction we must be open minded and explorative, willing to share experiences, able to communicate and receptive to input from others.
... Oh, and of course we also need to be creative in order to find new solutions and to use our knowledge in ever changing contexts. Innovation is crucial – but in my understanding it only covers a fraction of an entirely new mindset that we need to make the basis of our educations.
I wish I could innovate a better word for it.

1 comment:

Xian said...


Excellent post as usual. I agree with everything you said, with the addendum that the essential tools moving forward, the literacies, need to include the ability to parse the volumes of raw information for pertinent data, as well as interact and collaborate globally.

What I am seeing in the states is that people are receiving so much information that they either a) turn it all off, b) turn off all but self-reinforcing conduits of information (homophily). It takes considerable effort to self-select relevant and non limiting conduits of information.

Also, people are increasingly driven to collaborate across the world, where it isn't the quality of the voice/video/datashare session as much as it is cultural literacy and deeper understanding between parties. This is often overlooked when people talk about the global village, assuming all of the cultural differences will somehow magically work themselves out. They don't.

I look forward to your future blogposts on this challenge of innovation.

Thanks, Christian