Innovation depends largely on how we build meanings. Big changes succeed only if/when we are able to visualise, develop and integrate new values into our everyday activities. This usually takes a while, is uncertain and faces strong opposition, as people tend to feel uncomfortable about losing their experience and replacing their habits. Innovation is hard mainly because it destroys our notion of what is "normal" and valid at the time. I think that many people and organisations are gradually understanding the key role of meaning creation and destruction in innovation, so I wouldn't be surprised if University degrees and even entire industries emerge in the future based on what may be called "Meaning Engineering".
Few people would disagree that the future of innovation needs to be sustainable, but I'm not quite sure that we fully understand the subtle meanings and implications of sustainable living beyond the rather trivial initiatives on recycling and life-cycle impacts. Let's just stop and ponder an everyday situation that illustrates how the future of innovation demands a deep questioning of currently pervasive and dominant assumptions.
Today most working adults and young students think that they need some sort of mobile device for work, education or entertainment purposes.
What are their available options today? An expanding range of laptops, smart-phones, tablets, netbooks, PDAs, eBooks... not only hundreds of models, but entirely different product categories. This solution space is the result of a complex production-consumption relationship between rather small social group of investors, managers, designers and engineers who imagine and implement value proposals, and the aggregate decisions of buyers who judge such proposals within rich social situations of perception, influence and information sharing.
The design of electronic mobile devices is interesting, not so much from a technology viewpoint, but mainly because it illustrates how humans today define normalcy in consumption, communication, learning and entertainment. For example, in recent years the standard has shifted from desktop computers to laptops even by those users who are not frequent travellers and may have to compromise smaller screen sizes, uncomfortable postures, and more costly upgrades and maintenance. As laptops become the new standard, other alternatives are designed and produced. Experts forecast widely different scenarios for the future in this sector, but what is important is that the way we build meanings around such devices shapes the "stuff" that we buy.
I think that designers of "stuff" (products, buildings, systems) need to undergo a qualitative change in their way of thinking. As they adopt and develop a systemic approach to people, needs and meanings, I think they will understand and be able to manage innovation in the future. We are currently trying to educate this new generation of systemic, sustainable and innovative designers.