Innovation and Hope

Salvador Aragón. Professor. IE Business School

10 January 2011

Wanting to create a better future is what makes for the best ideas. And we need good ideas more than ever now, as leveraging new opportunities becomes increasingly important.

The current economic situation has brought about a drastic change in how people perceive innovation. Only two or three years ago, our society looked on innovation as an important economic and business phenomenon, albeit one that was on the fringe. Innovation was the responsibility of enigmatic R&D departments or, at most, creative individuals who were accepted to a lesser or greater extent in traditional organisations.

Today, innovation is the process in which we place much of our hope. Hope in innovation can be seen in messages like "innovation is of key importance for economic growth" or "a business that does not innovate disappears". However, this focus may be wrong and may be holding back the development of innovative skills.

From old Europe, the perception of Chile in recent months has been dominated by the rescue of the Atacama miners. The emotions we witnessed at camp "esperanza (hope)" showed a society that was ready to fight for a goal and that remained fully convinced of its own possibilities.

Hope alone, based on a profound belief in one´s own possibilities and in the fact that the future is full of opportunities that are there for the taking, makes innovation possible. Only by facing the future with confidence, despite an adverse present, will human beings, enterprises and societies be capable of generating new ideas, new businesses and new projects that allow them to move forward. Imagine how different the result of the rescue would have been if hope had been lost during the 17 days before the first contact was made with the miners.

That´s why we need to change our own perception of innovation. Innovation must stop being seen as hope, and hope, or the hopeful vision of the future, must enable and foster innovation. The question is how to do that in business?

The first aspect that must be worked on is symbolism. Does our company have success stories based on innovation? If so, they should be told by everyone. Does it have employees who personify the fight to change things and take advantage of new opportunities? If so, make them famous and recognised. Throughout history, the combination of "heroic" characters and stories has been a constant driving force for innovation.

Then we need to stop seeing innovation as an occasional area for specific departments and assume it as a process that applies across the entire organisation. That will require us to develop mechanisms for generating, attracting and listening to ideas, together with teams and units that turn inventions into innovations, i.e. into something the market wants.

With these premises and through the basic value of hope, we will put an end to the idea of innovation as hope and turn it into a solid base for the present realities and those of the future.

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