Innovate urgently for society

Bruce Wayne, the sophisticated man behind Batman, surprised his followers year after year with the innovative designs behind the Batmobile, the product of complex design processes and multiple field tests that sought to improve its performance to help Batman identify and apprehend Gotham City criminals.

Despite the role the Batmobile plays, little attention is paid to how Bruce Wayne proved his innovative designs were on target, not just in terms of the vehicle, but of the vehicle in relation to its surroundings.

Tima Bansal, professor of strategy at Ivey Business School, uses this curious reference to challenge the business community to rethink the relationship between the innovation processes of their companies and the environments in which they operate. Do they capitalize, as Wayne Companies, Inc. did, on the attributes of the goods and services offered to maximize their impact on the needs of the environment and their business purpose?

There are few companies today that do not appeal to their innovative capacity as one of the backbones of their work. To give us an idea, Apple spends about 5% of its annual revenue on research and development, Facebook more than 13%, Google more than 16% and Amazon more than 28%. However, the current approach to innovation, according to Bansal, continues to seek financial profitability in the short term. Thus, the opportunity to base innovations on the future of society is lost.

Tima’s proposal is that if companies do not focus innovation on macro-social patterns –demographic changes, scarcity of natural resources, social inequality, financial and technological exclusion, among many others–, we are losing the opportunity to innovate for much more ambitious goals and that can have long-term impact.

In other words, we need to rethink the approach to innovation processes. If instead of thinking only of the company as the unit of impact, we begin to visualize systems and society as the end of this innovation, not only would the approach to the process be totally different, but also the results.

Although there is no exact recipe, something key is that in these development processes we need to constantly think about how to zoom-in and zoom-out to understand the multiple perspectives of the problem and the multiple facets of impact that an innovative solution can have. .

Bansal & Grewatsch (2020) offer three tracks:

  1. Megatrends approach. It is the constant monitoring to address great challenges that impact not only your company, but also society. One strategy is to work with small cross-functional teams that include analysts, research and development specialists, and managers located in multiple countries.
  2. Expand the way we define the problem. It is about aligning innovation with what matters to them and what impacts society, far beyond what the client sees as an urgent need.
  3. Expand the way we measure results. A spectrum of more inclusive results should be sought from the temporal and spatial dimension. and not only from a purely commercial lens.

Although trends and dynamic social and environmental problems change, there is still a common pattern: the role of managers to generate and transform cultures that permeate social responsibility anchored in the indicated assumptions. Innovate for society, not just for the company.

*Ana Cristina Dahik is a professor in the Political and Social Environment area at IPADE Business School and Germán Céspedes is a professor in the Human Factor area at IPADE Business School.

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