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Friday, 15 July 2016

News Flash – Innovation is dead!

This is a theme I have heard a few times in the last few weeks, at a technology forum recently, in a BBC article and on a tech forum. So have we become so comfortable with our technology these days, that we are no longer pushing ourselves to innovate? Have we reached the peak of our technological achievements? Is the supposed tech bubble finally going to burst? Well it sure got me thinking, especially when I have set up this blog to understand the impact of people and technology on each other, I mean if it really is the end of tech I might need to close my blog … (dramatic silence). Shock! Horror!

Seriously though, it did get me thinking about what is driving this growing theme of technology stagnation? In the amazing world we live in, why would people feel we have reached a period of innovation stagnation? I learned from a development coach recently that there is 10% truth in anything someone says (yes you know who you are!) and hence felt that this was a good place to start. We have had some amazing technology developments over the decades; The Mobile Phone, Putting a Probe on Mars, The Internet – and I am sure many more I could mention, but are these really representing the end of our recent technology improvements? I mean if people are saying it, some aspect of it has to be true, because as we have also learned in our increasingly connected world, perception can quickly become reality.

I have seen some amazing developments recently, but it is not so much the developments themselves. Rather, I find something amazing has happened in the realization of these developments; they are no longer referred to as ’technology innovations’ but more simply as ’industry innovations’. The ability for doctors to operate using a virtual operating room, using robotic hands and cameras as if they were really there. Or for Manufacturers to now use 3D printers for manufacturing, or my personal favourite to have driverless cars on our roads – despite some of the recent incidents. Now these are all quite recent innovations – in my view anyway – but there are two things happening in our society that we need to be aware of.

1. Technology has now reached a point where it is infused in every industry, whether traditional or new, to the point that new jobs exist within these industries that are no longer ONLY about the core discipline (whether that be Medicine, Manufacturing or Engineering), but about how technology is being embedded into that industry. I love for example that IT managers in a hospital are not there to make sure the network remains connected, but to ensure the systems directly supporting Health Care services are running at peak performance. Or the Programmer working on self-driving vehicles, who needs to ensure the code used to speak to the ‘road aware devices’ are running properly. I believe this development has moved forward so much that the jobs of the future, for those seeking roles in the technology space, will rapidly evolve into multiple specialisations across industries. For example, you could become a Medical Engineer or a Manufacturing Programmer. I have previously talked about the concept of the changing profiles of roles, but that was merely from within an IT perspective. Where we are headed with cross disciplines - with technology and innovation playing a lead role, is even more exciting!

2. The lifecycle of innovation is actually now moving so fast that we are no longer seeing the leaps that we have in the past, in fact in many areas the life cycle of innovation is now occurring in months and no longer years, which could have led to the perception that innovation has simply stagnated. Technologists now have access to platforms and tools which help to rapidly reduce the cycle of innovation from the drawings on the back of a beer coaster, to a working model - whether software or even these days hardware. Many innovations failed to see the light of day, because our ability to promote those innovations was limited to what we can see - and the era of social media means that our world has never been smaller. What I mean by that is Innovations are no longer successful based merely on who has physical visibility of them in the real world, but now they are successful based on who can view them in our digital world. Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo are creating the funding enablers for people, anywhere in the world, who share a common interest or a belief, to connect. Kickstarter alone has supported over 100,000 creative projects raising over two billion US dollars to date a figure which I am sure would have some VC's envious! This to me, raises the view that innovation is being realised faster, broader and with a greater chance of success, because these crowdfunding platforms are not only bringing in funding, but also evidence that there is interest in that creative idea, whether it be technology based or Fashion or even food! I share this with you as I believe this growing crowdsourcing trend is accelerating our innovation journey - and businesses are starting to catch on that crowdsourcing is not only a great source of ideas, but when an idea is supported it can immediately translate into customer demand, as Lays found out when developing a new chip (Hmm Cheesy Garlic Bread)!

These two factors of technology now being embedded in everything we do, along with the speed with which new ideas can be realised are in my view, key drivers for this perception of innovation stagnation. In fact I think it is the speed with which we now see innovation occur, that gives us this perception that it has become stagnant, much like looking at a wheel that is spinning so quickly that it appears to be standing still., Technology innovation is occurring so often that we are now forced to filter out what is relevant to us. I spent an evening looking through some forums and came across some exciting products such as Evadrop, Seatylock and Phree (I should note these are ones I picked out at random, but there are many more). These are exciting innovations, which on the surface can seem small and without the impact that the arrival of the mobile phone did, however if these innovations realise their ambitions, they could change the world we live in and hopefully encourage others to open their minds to the possible.

So to answer the question ‘is Innovation dead’, well in my view… no, but I can understand why people would see that it is. The era of huge technology leaps has past and the era of constant innovation has arrived - an era where technology is embedded in every industry and where the speed with which concepts and ideas can be realised, is faster than ever. So fast in fact, that it can seem we are viewing simple development steps. Yet it is the development platforms now available, that are creating the opportunity for innovations to be developed quickly and either realise their potential or fail fast and avoid the risks of high cost failure.

Ultimately we have entered an age where we are embracing a greater appetite for risk - in trying out new ways of working or other concepts, knowing that if it doesn’t work the first time we can try, try and try again, as we continue to refine our innovations in an iterative process across days or weeks instead of years. I look forward to the next era where innovation merely becomes a class you take in school and where you learn to create new concepts and new ideas with the platforms that start-ups and other businesses are using today, so that Innovation doesn’t die, far from it, it simply becomes a way of life.