SOCIETY | Oct 10, 2019

Innovation calls for innovators

What traits must the people who create innovation have? What do you need in addition to passion?

We live in a world in which speed linked to innovation is increasingly marked. This does not apply exclusively to the so-called “enabling technologies”, i.e. those which allow activating technological innovation, but it is also and mainly true because of the effects that these have on people’s lives.

According to an article published by Visual Capitalist in 2018, the main technological innovations in human history took many years to reach the threshold of 50 million users. We begin with the 64 years which were necessary for aviation, then the 62 years for cars, up to the 14 years required for computers and the 4 years for the spread of Facebook.

Last of the list in this special ranking is the time required for the spread of Pokemon Go, a specific video game to be used on smartphones, equipped with innovative features such as the use of Augmented Reality and of geo-location and made by Niantic, where 19 days were sufficient to reach the threshold of 50 million users.

Enabling innovation

In many cases this depends on the fact that more recent innovations can be enabled by those which came before, for example Facebook would not make any sense without computers, Internet and electricity. In the same way, Pokemon Go, specifically designed to be used on smartphones, owes the speed of its use partly to excellent marketing and partly to having a really huge audience of potential users: smartphone owners all over the world.

The general rule is therefore that the new behavioral models enabled by technology arrive ever faster, grow faster, and when it occurs, they disappear just as fast, becoming technological one-hit wonders to all effects.

Faced with this scenario, companies not only have the problem of innovating their range of solutions for the market, but also and above all of innovating increasingly quickly in a world where enabling technologies grow at non-linear rates and in which end users are used to interaction models which are always different and constantly renewed as they are enabled by technology.

The role of people in innovation processes

If we start from the assumption that innovation is the process which generates value starting from ideas, then it is clear that the real work is not so much that of creating ideas, nor that of placing the product of innovation on the market.

The real work which affects innovation lies in the lengthy and uncertain processing phase, the one which is usually called the “execution” one. It is during this phase, in fact, that substance must be given to the idea by constantly verifying its quality, its technical feasibility and the impact it will have not only on the market in which it will be placed, but also in social and environmental terms, therefore, more generally, the impact enhancement it will have on the world around us. It is at this stage that all the technical, business aspects related to competition and to the protection of the intellectual property are analyzed. It is almost never a question of purely technological projects, but more often of wide-ranging innovation initiatives which involve the creation of new business models which meet a new vision of the market and, sometimes, of the world.

To carry out this task, it is necessary to have people, the innovators, who often arrive from different training and professional paths, with the right propensity for innovation and with the awareness that their action can have an impact not only on corporate business, but often directly on the life of people.

What characterizes innovators?

The first trait an innovator must have is passion. This is not a cliché, but an essential feature. The term “passion” does not mean exclusively the spasmodic search for emerging technologies and the predilection for the purely technological aspects of the solutions which can be put on the market, but rather the irrepressible need to always do something new, including with the use of technology, but in a context in which the latter is the means to obtain the result, not the ultimate goal of the process. The ultimate goal is the value that will be obtained at the end of the innovation process, regardless of the more or less marked use of emerging technologies.

By considering as a primary objective the value generated by the innovation process, the innovator has the trait of asking why a certain initiative is put in place, and not just what will be achieved and how. Wondering why, that is, investigating the underlying reasons behind the innovation initiative, means not looking exclusively at the technological or functional aspects, but considering the impact that the innovation initiative will have on people’s lives and on the world that surrounds us as the priority.

The third characteristic of the innovator is knowing that innovation is not created alone, it is done together. Together does not only mean working in a team, something which is taken for granted, but it means that in order to achieve excellence in innovation initiatives it is necessary to open up one’s personal borders and to interact with even a large number of partners: universities, research centers, others companies, SMEs, start-ups, end users. Only in this way will all the skills and experience necessary to obtain significant results be gathered. Another aspect that should not be underestimated is the relationship between man and machine: the innovator knows that machines, even the most sophisticated ones, guided by algorithms and equipped with Artificial Intelligence, are extraordinary and complementary tools in terms of processing capacity and identification of the solution. Thus, “together” also takes on the meaning of making common efforts between man and machine to ensure that the result obtained is greater than the sum of its initial parts.

The innovator is…

The innovator is therefore the one who, governed by passion for what he/she does, asks why an innovation initiative is created and not exclusively the what and how, and by applying a complex process together with other players of an ecosystem, he/she manages to pass from something which is not there to something that will be there, from something which does not yet exist to something that will exist, from a moment in which a certain solution does not exist on the market to a time when it will exist and will contribute, in a small or big manner, to change the world around us for the better.

Massimo Canducci