How to innovate in a connected world

by | Jun 18, 2014

How to innovate in a connected world

In September 2008 the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, a sprawling global bank, almost meant the near-collapse of the world’s financial system. Five years on and the effects of the crash are still rippling through the world economy. Europe and the USA struggle to recover from a deep economic slump and even China is starting to worry now that it’s not showing double-digit growth.

In this gloomy state of affairs everybody agrees on one thing: the key to a way out of the crisis and future economic growth is innovation.

As a driver of innovation IT has a special position because it forms an integral part of how we run our businesses.  Software innovations are a catalyst in every single domain. IT has and will in an accelerated pace alter industries, economies and societies. Markets that have entirely been disrupted by IT and IT innovation are, to name a few, telecommunication (Skype, Whatsapp), hotel business (AIRBNB), education (Coursera), media (iTunes, Netflix) retail(Amazon, Ebay), health /sports (Nike Fuelband) and transportation (Uber, Hailo). Not to name the highly disruptive effects autonomous vehicles (Google, Tesla) will have on transportation. Software is indeed eating the world.

Though IT is the nerve systems of the connected world the problems of Europe and the ‘Western’ world at large are more structural. As IT is run and IT innovation is propelled by lucid minds, the human element is still fundamental. This is the structural problem of many of the  ‘rich’ countries, because:

1. An aging workforce

2. The current lack of talented IT-engineers

3. The lack of interest for technology education

There are signs of hope also. More and more thought leaders are arguing that everybody, even children should learn to code.

These initiatives should be applauded and actively supported. However, the solution they provide will be 20 years too late for many businesses.

Businesses that want to lead or survive must act now. In this ever-connected world they must leverage the global talent pool. For companies and public organizations operating in a global battleground this is a business imperative, not a choice. The reasons why are clear:

• To move work to where it makes most sense

• To tackle the opportunity lost because of the innovation deficit in current outsourcing practice that is only or mainly based on cost reduction

• To innovate across the board. Today innovation on only the core competencies of a business in single vertical markets is not enough anymore. To build an entire ecosystem around a business, innovation in the domains that are ‘outsourced’ is also necessary.

The most important reason to tap into the global talent pool is the evolution of a group of highly talented individuals into the so-called reverse diaspora. Coined by Balaji Srinivasan, Group Lead at the Stanford Bitcoin Group, the reverse diaspora is a group of individuals that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated.

If these groups of highly talented people end up physically concentrated or ‘cloud countries’ a envisioned by the likes of Larry Page en Elon Musk remains to be seen. The more important argument is that IT has made location irrelevant and will do so even more in the future.

To innovate business leaders need to tap into these nodes of top talent. Pools of talent that are neither constrained by time nor by space. In the connected world the important metric for innovation then becomes the geodesic distance: the number of degrees of separation between two nodes (of top talent) in a social network.

Photo Credit: Mark Sebastian

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