Posted by: dstieglitz | April 30, 2014


“Innovation separates leaders from followers.”  – Steve Jobs

     Moore’s Law says that the density of transistors on integrated circuits – and therefore computing speed – doubles every two years. But Gordon Moore himself, Intel’s founder and author of the law, warned “It can’t continue forever. At some point we reach fundamental limits.” But that doesn’t mean innovation will slow – quite the contrary. Futurists say innovation in this century will dwarf innovations of the 20th century. Advances in synthetic life forms, exotic materials, connectivity, robotics, data analytics, and energy distribution (for example) will far exceed innovations in computing. Is your organization prepared for innovation on a grand scale? Are you?

     Waves of Innovation. Waves of innovation will create products and services that are as far beyond our imagination as the Internet was beyond Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell’s imagination in 1914. They used innovations in electricity and communications to build industrial giants that changed the way we live and work. Innovation in the 21st century promises a sustainable future that produces more food, energy, and consumer conveniences using progressively fewer resources and with much lower environmental impacts.

    Instincts Drive Innovation. Since the Stone Age, innovation has been driven by man’s basic instincts: survival, fear desire, and competition. Those instincts are still at work today:

  • Survival. The Earth’s population will pass 8 billion by 2020 and 9 billion by 2040. Innovation is essential to provide enough clean air, pure water, food, shelter, and health care.
  • Fear. The omnipresent threat of terrorism and crime will drive innovation in security devices way beyond today’s surveillance cameras, intrusion alarms, and defensive weapons.
  • Desire. The Internet has enlightened everyone to the best things available on the planet – everyone wants the best of everything.
  • Competition. Virtually instantaneous reporting of economic breakthroughs pushes businesses as well as governments to deliver better and cheaper services and products.

Furthermore, rising expectations in developing countries and a growing cadre of senior citizens are a major force in innovation – and both groups have the money to pay for what they want.

    Whole New Industries. Entrepreneurs will apply innovations to create new industries, build new facilities, and provide billions of new jobs – although many of today’s jobs will disappear. Consider the following boutique industries that will blossom from novelties today into widely embraced products and services in the next decade:

  • Pure Water. Next to the air we breath, water is most vital for mankind’s survival. Today’s water supply systems deplete rivers and aquifers. It’s likely that desalting seawater into potable water will become big business – possibly even exceeding today’s fossil fuels industry.
  • Food Engineering. Genetic advances, drip irrigation, and other innovations will produce crop varieties that resist freezing and can be irrigated with saltwater, thus converting wastelands into high-yield, sustainable farms.
  • Energy. By the end of the 21st century fossil fuels will be a minor energy source behind wind, solar, ocean tides, geothermal, and other sources we haven’t thought of yet.
  • Driverless Transportation. Highways will be traveled by computer-controlled cars, buses and trucks while humans drive vehicles only for recreation. Robo-taxis will take people to work, supermarkets, malls, supermarkets, and doctors – any place they want to go.
  • Garbage. There will be no such thing as “garbage.” Recycling plants will convert 100% of what we now call waste into reusable materials using innovations akin to alchemy.
  • Connectivity. With sensors imbedded in everything from walls and floors, to appliances and tools, to animals and plants, the “Internet of Things” will disrupt one industry after another and shift economic value from physical goods to tools that collect and analyze data.

The 20th century’s breakthroughs in information processing, automation, and communications will seem primitive in comparison to what lies ahead.

    Challenge of Innovation. If you’re in an industry with rampant innovation (e.g., cyber-space, health care, or energy), your challenge is to create and market products and services that customers may not understand or know they need. And if you’re not in one of those industries, your organization could face extinction. In either case, your continued prosperity in a world of innovation depends on your ability to:

  • Recognize trends and incorporate them into your strategic plans
  • Understand how organizations connect to help each other succeed
  • Question and be open to being questioned about assumptions
  • Engage diverse personality styles to promote innovation
  • Ask probing questions and genuinely listen to the responses
  • Create an environment that fosters collaborative thinking, and
  • Value what others say – especially if their perspective is unique.

Use these methods to create a culture of innovation that gathers, shares, and acts on ideas and knowledge inside your organization and across your industry.


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