I believe we need a more humanistic approach to innovation. One that promotes environmentalism, diversity, social progression and individual wellbeing as a foundation of the concepts, products, services and experiences that organisations and businesses create.
One that, frankly, delivers hope re: COP26.
In the context of the climate crisis, the issue of why we should trust ‘the organisation behind the brand’ regarding their environmental credentials, is vital. For companies that are seen, by their behaviour, to be meeting the challenges set by the climate emergency in an effective manner; then on purely consumer-engagement and brand differentiation levels, this will enable them to achieve greater business success.
A well-known industry saying has it that the most successful companies achieve their ongoing success by preparing for change, rather than simply attempting to adapt to that change when it appears. And movements like Extinction Rebellion have clearly acted as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ in an array of critical contexts.
The responses must be a transformation of the way in which businesses are led, strategies are developed, products are created, and of the overall approaches to be taken as we move towards a circular and more ethical economy. Which is where ‘real purpose’ as opposed to often vague notions of ‘brand purpose’ are highlighted by those like Extinction Rebellion.
When put in the context of innovation, on which any organisation is so reliant, whilst I believe that hyper-relevance, ultra-personalisation, ethics, collaboration and sustainability are the crucial foundations of success; this crucial area of business is therefore about to become more dynamic and challenging than ever, as those tasked with creating that innovation are confronted with this existential dilemma.
It’s one that has, in the majority of cases, effectively been ignored. Major action is needed, with businesses in every industry, including the ever-widening area of innovation, having crucial roles to play.
Alongside that primary issue of climate, we see technology, and particularly artificial intelligence, having game-changing impacts across all sectors. From product development to service provision, from smart cities to connected homes, and from future jobs to next-generation education; the effects will be deeply felt at all levels, across society and business, around the world.
Yet too many businesses seem to ignore this new landscape and aren’t adapting quickly enough in order to innovate and generate growth. They need to stay ahead of the competition and understand dynamic cultural, economic and social trends, and innovate around emerging ways of living and consuming that are dictating new methods of doing business.
And, of course, they must act in a trustworthy manner and note their moral obligations with regards to the outputs of their activity. For example, the tension between innovation and ethics, with regards to AI, is of immense significance.
It’s fascinating to observe how modern management theory has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its profits.
We now see leading businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has improving society as a central aim.
So, the catalytic times we live in have profound implications for businesses and organisations of all varieties. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England, memorably declared a few months ago that “firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt”.
In the context of my book, the issues concerned have been epitomised by Greta Thunberg’s call for systematic change in her speeches at the UN, and via the global protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion movement. XR use nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
Meanwhile, despite the warning of an array of respected public figures, backed up with solid scientific evidence, it’s been staggering to observe many in the mainstream media, and the upper echelons of “yesterday’s businesses” still attempt to dismiss XR. However, it was interesting to see The FT, an early mover in understanding the movement, noting that “the word ‘extinction’ in their title isn’t just referring to plants, insects and animals. It means us.”
From a business-futures perspective, and standing at odds with “yesterday’s organisations and yesterday’s leaders” it’s fascinating to observe how modern management theory has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its profits.
We now see leading businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has improving society as a central aim. That is a hugely important shift, and these modernised principles reflect a very different business world than that inhabited by Mr Friedman.
This is where, for instance, the building of trust by brand’s evidencing their ongoing actions, are of such importance. (They relate to what I termed ‘reputation capital’ in my first book ‘The Post-Truth Business’ regarding whether a brand is ‘trustworthy, reliable and competent’).
This year, at the 2020 meeting of the World Economic Forum, the risks that the environmental crisis pose to business were stated to have moved from ‘potentially problematic’ to ‘potentially catastrophic’.
So, it’s a sustainable future on which we all must focus first, where ‘people and planet’ are put far ahead of ‘profit’ as an overall aim.
Many have called for not just a fundamental rethink of how we approach solving business problems (and as I say at the beginning of my book, innovators are those who ‘seek problems to solve’) but that we look at innovation as a whole, and its place in the world we live in, as a point to be endlessly deliberated from the perspective of making life better for the largest possible number of people.
This sees companies reframing themselves as having a higher purpose than just pleasing their investors and shareholders. Their need to increasingly focus on being a ‘positive force for good’ and this has a clear impact on their product and service innovation alongside their social and environmental activity.
‘Business ethics’ therefore moves from being a ‘nice to consider’ issues to a key ‘must-have’ factor for those desiring good reputation s and long-term success.
In doing so, we shall ensure that, as the saying goes, ‘good business is good business’.
Sean Pillot de Chenecey is the author of ‘Influencers & Revolutionaries’. Published by Kogan Page Inspire, £14.99