Innovation Perspectives – Desperate for Innovation

by Paul Hobcraft

This is the fifth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?‘. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Paul Hobcraft

Innovation Perspectives - Desperate for InnovationWhen you look at the question posed it is clear to me the key word here is ‘desperate’. What or whom is desperate for innovation? After such a seismic shift that has taken place in the recent period causing the global recession there is a really good case for many products, sectors or industries as all in need of fresh innovation but are they desperate? Most of us would immediately think of the automotive industry, the insurance sector, the banking and the home ownership sectors as ‘primed’ for desperate measures or more radical innovation thinking but after all the considerable bail-outs by public finance this seems not to have happened? So are they ‘desperate’ or just apathetic to making the changes felt necessary for returning to sustaining futures? Clearly time will tell on how the final consumer judges the ‘revised’ offerings from these sectors, in new products or services. Also time will tell if we see emerging different models to challenge existing players. It is then they become desperate because they don’t seem to feel they are in that situation today, although many, including me, might disagree.

As Clayton Christensen outlines in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Harvard Business School Press, it is failure of companies to confront certain types of market and technological change, even what we thought were well run companies that surprise us when they do fail. When do they begin to fail, I think it is when they are not applicable to the future? Are we ready to ditch these sectors or the products, many bailed out, as we know them today? I’m not sure we are…yet.

We have lived through some exciting times for growth in the “Noughties”, the first ten years of this century, and as we enter the “Teenies” we do not seem to be that well equipped as we would have liked to be, to tackle the wholesale changes society is expecting. Our past models are not sustaining us to take us forward. We have made this ‘rod for our own backs’ by producing thousands of competent managers, risk-adverse not risk-taking, with our business leaders continually look over their shoulders or in the rear view mirror who have become short term in most of their actions. Governments still take ‘adversarial’ positions. The end result of much of the activities of the past decade have led us to building a failure framework, one more sustaining old models and not ones that shift us truly up a gear or two into a new age of prosperity.

So I would argue we are in a desperate situation, but on a broader front than products and sectors alone. What I believe that need tackling through innovation is at a higher level, at the society level and this is where there is a truly ‘desperate’ need for fresh innovative thinking to sow the seeds of real, lasting change? Products and sector change comes as a result of this shift of focus to the higher level as it forms the ‘call to action’ framework.

I believe it is through social innovation we see the greatest desperation for change. We are faced with enormous challenges like aging populations, climate change, migration, social divides, chronic diseases, growing behavioral problems, diversity challenges in cities and countries, transitions into adulthood, addition, crime and punishment, learning disabilities, education inequality, conflicts and mutual resentment, rising long-term health related conditions, the effects of affluence and a greater search for happiness and community belonging. These are the truly ‘desperate’ areas of innovation need that should hold our attention.

It is in these fields that many of our existing models simply do not work well enough. We try to apply business models whereas we need to become more flexible, more imaginative and we need to think more deeply upon the factors that would allow innovation to be successful here.

These challenges have very different patterns of innovation; they are likely to have different motives, different mixes of commitment (voluntary, political and philanthropic) that call for even more complex relationships, different patterns of growth, often more resilient. Judging success will not be based on market share or scale but on a more contained need to overcome with imaginative solutions. We need to plan out different National Social Innovation solutions to tackle these immensely complex problems that only get worse without us turning our creative, innovative thinking upon. These are our pressing, more desperate, frontiers to tackle.

This social innovation space is the new frontier between civil society, government and business to find ways to solve common problems that require real innovation solutions. The positive news is that we are learning fast about the power of networks, different communication mediums and different processes to see some emerging solutions that must now shift from personal experimentation to community engagement ones . It is the power of combining the different players around these social issues and to find a new set of tools, new skills and new kinds of organizations that will occupy us in the years ahead.

Innovation is no more the ‘nice to have’ experiment it needs deeper understanding, a forward thinking for concept forming and then working them back to the issues on hand and applying novel solutions in many cases. By exploring the power of new combinations, using technology and having better social market understanding will give us a greater appreciation of the different aspects of innovation and how they can contribute so each player understands and does play their part, so we can begin to address these more pressing social innovation challenges that are certainly ‘desperate’ to resolve in the years ahead.

Perhaps as we enter the “Teenies” it is the right time; the time we start to grow up and understand what innovation can provide to us all so as to tackle those pressing social ills that need new thought and solutions.

You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?‘ by clicking the link in this sentence.


Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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