3 reasons why innovation is the only way out of this rut

The world is changing so quickly that whatever we know now is quite simply out of date already. What got us here, won’t get us where we want to go next. A new thinking is required.

Economies, like businesses, are stagnating – creating huge stresses within society and environment. No new wealth is created, but wealth is instead being recycled from existing resources. Population is growing, resources are depleting and the economy is plateauing. Social welfare is at risk, as resources become more expensive but wages stagnate with the economy. Distribution of wealth remains unchanged: no new businesses are created, and wealth continues to remain within existing circles. Of course, the rate of stagnation varies from one country / society to another. So the issue of stagnation may be more, or less, apparent in different countries / societies. That being said, the trend of reducing marginal utility is quite commonly seen as countries / societies develop or progress.

To address this reality, big problems have to be solved; we must adapt to changing variables; and create new opportunities and new wealth for society.  

This is the innovation process. While invention is the process of converting value into ideas, innovation is about converting ideas into value. With new value, comes new opportunities, adaptability to change, and problems newly solved.

Innovation may be a concept, idea, and word that has been overused. But it is becoming more necessary in the world today for the following three reasons.

Reason number 1 – Innovation gets us out of dead ends. 

We frequently face challenges and obstacles that seem to prevent us from moving forward. Sometimes these obstacles may be minor and we choose to accept or live with them, but other times the obstacles may be so threatening such that something must be done about them. Today we face many obstacles that threatens our society – climate change, depleting resources, geo-political and social imbalances etc.  

global goals for sustainable development

These are big obstacles or problems that, if not effectively addressed, will threaten long term sustainability of the global society. As these are big problems, by nature they cannot be solely solved by the same approaches and ideas that we have utilised till now. Often these will require significant boldness and new thinking. 

Reason number 2 – Innovation helps us adapt and survive in times of major change and disruption.

We live in a world where change is happening at an increasingly fast pace. Disruptive forces are ever present, not just in technology, but in many different areas such as politics, economics, society, environment and laws. Some of these disruptive forces can be seen clear as daylight – such as the political shifts in the USA and other parts of the world; and other disruptive forces may not be apparent today – such as the technology march that was so imperceptible until it reached a tipping point and hit once profitable and dominant firms such as Kodak and Nokia.

People, firms, governments, political parties etc will need to be constantly adaptable to these changing forces. There is no point for these groups to fight and deny these changing forces. For there is no way to stop the change of weather; instead, we must find ways to adapt to it.

Innovation is about being constantly sensitive to these shifts and being able to adapt to them. It is about sensing these signs and changes, then identifying and creating ways to adapt, even take advantage of these shifts. Innovation is about being adaptable, being open to new information / knowledge, and listening / observing to find ways to produce solutions for these changing times.

Reason number 3 – Innovation allows us to create new opportunities.

New opportunities matter.

Human society is amazing in its ability to innovate. But it also has a down side when it is unchanging and complacent – which tends to breed arrogance, greed, inefficiency and neglect.

This is why human society can never stand still. Without innovation or new opportunities, society’s existing elites and usual suspects will tend to reign supreme in the existing opportunities and will continue to lock others out from gaining more share of these opportunities.

This situation becomes even more acute when the demand far outweighs the supply of such opportunities. The gravity of the problem is further multiplied when arrogance, greed, inefficiency and neglect increases. The cost one has to pay for such opportunities will become sharply higher and extend beyond the reach of those who cannot afford it. This then creates a vicious cycle which will ultimately lead to social issues.

Innovation is society’s renewal and rejuvenation process. 

The innovative process is inherently disruptive. It is about bringing about something new because the existing solutions have become inefficient, slow, and no longer relevant to the needs of present day society. This disruption acts as a reset to level the playing field and re-distribute opportunities and wealth from the incumbents towards those that create new value. This reset is crucial to unseat the complacency that tends to take hold of society.

 

I believe that it is clear and ultimately vital that the society we live in today must push for innovation in order for our society to deal with some of the pressing issues as mentioned above. Innovation is not just about products and businesses, but also about thinking, attitudes and cultures. Stagnation is bad for society – and we see some signs of this stagnation in many areas. It is urgent that innovation is given more than just lip service. Efforts must be taken to create the right conditions for innovation to flourish. Work to create conditions for innovation – not just talking about it or appointing people to the task of innovation. Failure to encourage innovation will almost certainly result in significant social crisis.

I will in future write about what I believe are the right conditions for innovation to flourish and discuss these further. Thank you for reading. 

Cool hipster place at one|half & awesome canteen in Taman Paramount PJ

Thanks to our hipster 16 year old daughter, we found these stores in Taman Paramount, Petaling Jaya – called “one|half” and “awesome canteen”. Both places were run by the same friends and creates a very hip ambience. 

What I found interesting was more to do with the marketing of low volume, hand made, local products – as you can see in the photos. Given these are low volume and very niche products – the pricing is not what you would call cheap. However, I believe by creating an experience and a social cause association with local producers – such products can be positioned and differentiated from merely low cost products.

What is additionally interesting is this experience can be used to increase appreciation for locally produced, low volume and hand made goods. I have seen these forms of experiences in US, Europe and Japan, places that are not afraid to create fresh experiences (and sometimes promote social causes) with niche products would thus create demand for such local goods. Some chain stores like “Lush” even take an activist approach to enhancing such social benefits to the eco system. No doubt this social activist approach helps draw and create demand from customers who share these ideals.

This should be something we should explore and fund to stimulate demand for local cottage businesses.


one|half and awesome canteen can be found at Jalan 20/13 Taman Paramount PJ. You can probably locate them on google maps.

Goals – keep you moving forward. Purpose – helps you get up when you’re down.

I was asked the question today on how do I keep myself motivated, even when things are so stacked against you.

We often have goals, aspirations – whatever you want to call it. Often life finds a way to deal you cards that knock you off the path to your goals. And you wonder how you are going to ever achieve these aspirations. Over time, you start to scale your goals down. And finally you just settle. 

Nothing wrong with just settling. In fact, it is good to be happy with what you have.

However sometimes, for some people – this may not be enough. And that is ok too. It is good that a few people in this world choose to have big aspirations. This is important so that we can look up to them and they can lead the way. And often big aspirations have a bad habit of not coming true or getting derailed. 

I believe that if you have a clear purpose – you will find the energy to pick yourself up and move forward. A purpose is slightly different to a goal or aspiration. A purpose is something larger than oneself – whereas to me, a goal tends to be about oneself. A purpose is about how you can make an impact (positive, preferably) to other people. This is meaningful and brings reason and purpose to one’s existence.

Identifying your own purpose is not very obvious. And no one can tell you what your purpose is. Only you know it. Or will know it, if you keep searching. Some have described purpose is the overlap between finding your gift – and – sharing your gift with others. To some people, this purpose may come from a particular event in one’s life. To others it may be readily apparent. 

Once you’ve found your purpose, you’ve found something bigger than a few mere setbacks. That is what will help you.

The environment shapes culture. Change the environment, culture will follow.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

You can have a great strategy, but if the culture is not right then the strategy will fail. What is culture? In simple terms, my view of culture relates to how people act and behave, their habits and norms, their priorities and focuses. 

But changing or reshaping culture is not an easy thing. You cannot change how people conduct themselves. You can’t effectively force people who love to spend to suddenly save. You can tell them to do so, remind and cajole them even. But they will not willingly or naturally do so.

However, if you create a hypothetical situation where prices increases sharply, then people will start to save. This can be clearly seen with regards to natural resources such as water. If water is cheap, people will use it with very little thought and often waste it. When water is precious and expensive then people will start to save it. 

The same applies in management. If you want a culture of obedience, you create detailed rules and processes (bureaucracy!), you emphasise punishment and fear. If you want a culture of innovation, you allow more freedom especially for people to think different and try new things. You create the space and encourage minds to open.

Don’t spend time trying to get people to behave differently. Work on the systems and processes, not the people. 

Don’t bother trying to change people behaviours. Just change your management processes. Identify what kind of culture you want. What behaviours you would like to see. Be very clear on this. Then identify what are the current systems and processes that inhibit these behaviours and those the encourage these behaviours. Start changing those systems and processes. 

Work on the systems. The culture will follow.