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Innovation for Impact

Image by rony michaud from Pixabay

So when I am told We want to be innovative (and that is a great ambition), I always wonder why? And with the many innovations that go wrong (apps that no longer work on the app store, the millions put into projects that don't work, the recent scandals like Cambridge Analytica, British Post Office, Apriss, just to name a few), this seems an excellent question to ask. Many of these new innovations were introduced to improve things, at least on paper….but quickly went wrong with horrible impacts. It is not just the private sector but the public and nonprofit sectors that face these issues.

So the question I am asking is a good one. Why are you investing time, money, and effort in an innovation? If the answer is Because I love innovating, this answer seems like a great one, but keep in mind this little story. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite for the purposes of mining and construction. Later, he was devasted with how it was being used (for military purposes in war resulting in death) that he got the moniker “The Merchant of Death.” He then created the Nobel Prize to leave a better legacy. Today we are so connected to knowledge that you should take a moment and ask the following questions: Can my invention be used wrongly? What will be the impact, and can I minimize the wrong usage in the design stage?

If your answer is to make money or save money, then my question is, At what cost? This answer will outline the tradeoffs you make. For example, maybe you save costs but make redundant vital employees or cannot control your governance structure or market perception of you. Each of those above scandals had tradeoff costs that were not calculated before deploying the innovation.

If your answer is to solve a problem, then my question is, Are you sure you have the right problem? Too many solutions are deployed for the wrong problem, and hence there is an issue with the solution. Think of the recent Max 737 airplane crashes. The FAA had determined the reaction time for a pilot needs to be three seconds. When the MCAS system failed, multiple warnings went off in the cockpit, confusing the pilots who did not have enough training on the new airplane (in retrospect, the regulatory authority, the manufacturers, and customers can all be blamed). Can you respond in 3 seconds in a high crisis situation to save the lives of all in the plane? So what problem were you solving? To help the pilot?

Innovation is not an easy process – and should not be confused with an invention. It is much more. It needs to create value for ALL stakeholders. Hence their perception of value is critical. Sometimes we value the wrong things and thus use an invention without an idea of the consequences.

So the questions you need to ask in order of priority are:

· What is the problem?

· Who are the stakeholders (focusing first on the HUMAN for whom the invention is for)?

· What can go wrong in deploying my innovation, and how can I safeguard against this?

· What are the direct impact and secondary impacts of the innovation? Governments often work in public value, which is generational, so this needs to be calculated carefully.

· How will I measure impacts? We need to go beyond sales. Here it is worthwhile to look at your innovation, keeping in mind Universal Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goals.

Innovate for Positive Impact.

Not just for the sake of innovation.


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