Let us think of innovation in terms of its special focus. In multiple explanations of what 'innovation' is, we describe it as 'bringing change', 'introducing novelty', 'shifting perceptions', 'disrupting the status quo'... but for what's sake? It seems that today we use innovation to create value for customers and commercial return for companies, share- and stakeholders, and the country. Through innovations we create economic growth and higher standard of living, we introduce profitable products and novel services for local and global markets - but at what cost? Have a look around. In most economies, innovators hardly think of their 'novelty' in terms of ultimate quality and eventual consequences. As a result we are surrounded, for instance, by fridges and air-conditioning systems; our first impulse is to think that we cannot imagine our life without these; but on second thoughts, we might understand that all those innovations that are meant to improve our standard of living are, ultimately damaging through the materials they use, e.g. freon, thereby lowering our standard of living.
Take any industrial field - computers, water-heating, air-cooling, civil building, transport, packaging - in most cases the inventors were oblivious to environmental, social policies and damaging side-effects. Innovators sought 'mass-market quantity' rather than 'sustainable, environmentally friendly quality'; project managers struggled for 'internal rate of return' rather than 'external rate of responsibility'. In the industrial and post-industrial economy 'quantity at any cost was not thought of as inappropriate and irresponsible innovation strategy. Having a passion for technology and markets, rather than humanity and the environment, we are now experiencing crises on many fronts: energy, fuel, waste, warming, water. Today - certainly tomorrow - in the post-post-industrial economy we have to optimise the search for qualitative solutions in innovation management, whether one is an environmentalist or not.
Many companies still believe that it increases costs to behave more socially and environmentally responsible. In 2007 Goldman Sachs published the results of a study which found that those companies that were leading in their environmental strategies have outperformed their competitors in terms of stock value by 25 percent.
The 'glossary of innovation' introduces terms that reflect the 'goodness for the environment' on a daily basis; examples are the LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, Chief Green Officer, power management, power usage effectiveness, silent vampire, paper battery, e-cycling, clean computing, to name but a few. At the moment the term 'ambidextrous' is used in innovation management to describe the 'capability to handle both continuous and discontinuous innovation within one organisation'. Can the notion of ambidexterity not also be used to refer to the capability 'of exploiting quantitative output while at the same time ensuring a qualitative outcome of innovation?
Mankind badly needs innovations that will not only bring commercial profit for individual companies but also operate 'qualitatively' for the rest of the world. To illustrate, let's take the pro-industrial electric power system and, already mentioned, a 'grid around the world'. The sun is always shining somewhere in the earth. Fairly logically, we need a novel system which uses the sun that actually never sets. For a successful future of using the sun as power source we need innovation that draws on social collaboration of the global community.
To conclude, the future of innovation is destined with 'qualitative innovations' that focus specially on external commitment, environmental care, zero emissions, global social responsibility, energy reduction policies, and reduced side-effects. We need comprehensive strategies for the economic and physical transformation of those pro-industrial, 'quantitative' technological advancements, the ones that were aimed at generating 'financial return' rather than the sustainably positive effects innovation should have.