Navigating the Innovation Spectrum: Aspiration versus Mandate

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By Martin Bouza

March 12, 2024

Innovation today is a buzzword. Just like Digital Transformation was before, and Artificial Intelligence will come after, the cycle seems to be never-ending. This doesn’t at all mean that there is no value to these concepts: rather, it’s something everyone talks about, everybody wants to identify with, but at the end of the day few people truly grasp what it entails, and even fewer roll up their sleeves for. Sure, it takes effort, but at its core, innovation is humanity’s most powerful tool to transform the future. It’s about having the courage to experiment, fail, and try again until you find what works.

In my previous post we separated hypes from trends that genuinely shape the future. And it got me thinking—maybe innovation itself is stuck in a perpetual state of hype. We talk about it endlessly, but do we really understand what it means? And more importantly, how do we break it out of its hype and into something that is as expected and frequent as can be?

Part of the problem, I think, lies in how we treat innovation as an aspiration. It’s the it girl of today, and if I had to guess, I’d say 99% of companies and even leaders describe themselves as innovative. But when reality hits, only few of them actually dive into it and actually materialize it.

Perhaps the gap between idealization and materialization stems from a collective fear of failure. Innovation, after all, is inherently risky. But it’s also necessary. It’s what propels us forward, drives progress, and shapes the future. So why are we so hesitant to embrace it? Maybe it’s because we’re too focused on short-term gains. In the business world, especially in the West, companies are obsessed with maximizing shareholder value within a clear-cut temporal horizon. CEOs, politicians, educators—they’re all measured against this timeline, which often steers them away from taking risks that could yield greater rewards down the line.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes us imagine for a moment that we’re leading a highly successful company with a flagship product that’s dominating the market. It’s natural to want to double down on what’s working, to invest all our resources in maximizing the success of your core product. But here’s the catch: by doing so, we’re essentially setting ourselves up for failure. Why? Because while we’re busy focusing on what’s working today, disruptive technologies are emerging on the horizon, poised to revolutionize our industry. It’s a classic case of being blindsided by our own success. And yet, so many companies fall into this trap, clinging to the status quo instead of embracing change and innovation. It’s a sobering reminder that in today’s fast-paced world, complacency is the enemy of progress, and innovation is the key to survival.

So, how do we move innovation out of the hype and into the norm? Difficult problems are usually in my experience best tackled with simple solutions, with a caveat: they will take effort, whether it’s coordination and alignment, investment or something else. And in this case, I believe it all comes down to that alignment, which must be independent of the time horizons of each stakeholder. What I mean by this is we need to coordinate solutions that transcend the term of a politician or the tenure of a CEO, that help us collectively stop boycotting real innovation. And maybe governments should incentivize this with robust measures, or maybe the hunger for transforming the future should be enough, but the point remains that we need to work together to foster innovation everywhere.

At Arionkoder, we’re building our Future Task Force with a blend of design and science to tackle the challenges of tomorrow through innovation. Because for us, it’s a tool that helps us fulfill our purpose of crafting better futures for humanity but not an end in itself. We want to make innovation a fact, not a buzzword, but we can’t do it alone. We need partners, collaborators, and fellow innovators to join us on this journey. Together, we can harness the power of innovation to create a brighter tomorrow.