The current Innovation paradigm has the shape of a pyramid – at its top, few “creative people” come with some brilliant ideas; at the second level, a larger proportion of the population develop these ideas; then, we have even a larger group that bring that implement them; and finally, most of us consume the outputs – be it a commercial tangible product, an art object, a political decision. This is the case in most organizations and communities – commercial, political, social. What if such organizations would “square” the pyramid and many of the stakeholders would participate directly in the upper level of the innovation pyramid? Take the city, for example. What if a large proportion of all citizens sectors would be involved in inventing the future of the city, and inventing new ways to develop it and solve its main problems?
How can this vision be realized?
In the last decade, the idea of “Open Innovation” attracted academic research and visionary manifestos, and more importantly: it became a practical and effective way to integrate sometimes thousands for brilliant brains in the innovation process. The way the LINUX operating system was developed by a virtual network of thousands programmes is a powerful example of effectiveness and impact of such approach.
In the recent years, more than thirty “future centers” were established in a variety of private and public organizations. These are organizational, physical, mental and methodological spaces for collaboratively exploring future challenges and developing solution. Metaphorically, they are used as OUTLOOKs for the future, INNOVATION LABs for solutions, INCUBATORs for entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, TORNADOs of creative energy, BRIDGES between perspectives, disciplines and stakeholders, ARENAs for purposeful innovative dialogues.
A Future Center is made of a set of interlinked building blocks: a clear vision (why and for what for it is set up), a portfolio of services that translate this vision into value to the founding organization and wider community, a dedicated team of innovation facilitators, a core process for looking into the future and then addressing it in a practical way, a toolbox of innovation and futurizing methods, a sustainable business model, an attractive physical space that enables different kind of thinking and collaboration, a virtual environment that complement the physical one and a clever organizational positioning.
In the research project “Open Futures” an international research and development consortium explored this emerging approach and developed an operating system for future centers. I think that in the coming years we will see many “Future Centers” (FCs), perhaps using different titles, in multiple domains. There will urban FCs, regional FCs, national FCs, FCs of specific organizations or FCs of a cluster of enterprises in a specific area.
Why? Because the future center is a practical mechanism to practice the paradigm of Open Innovation and realize, collaboratively, the suggestion of Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.