The Dystopian Present of Innovation

Having been working in an around the “innovation” space for the last 10+ years, I have seen many different definitions of what innovation “means” to different organizations. Typically, to organizations it means to do something new…that is…new to them. I recently wrote a post about what it is that companies are actually doing—Renovation vs. Innovation with their business strategy. This got me to start thinking and hypothesizing about the future of the concept of innovation.

A dystopian future is one that isolates and exaggerates certain social trends in order to highlight their most negative qualities. In doing so, it too offers a critique of society.

The key notion here is the exaggeration of certain social trends and highlighting their most negative qualities. Trend analysis is such a big emphasis of “big data.” Big data has the tendency to force us to criticize current trends and “normal” consumer behavior. We start to create a what-if scenario that essentially is imagined current-to-future states which we seek to create control with our product and services and how we market them.

The MIT Tech Review said this recently:

One of the biggest new ideas in computing is “big data.” There is unanimous agreement that big data is revolutionizing commerce in the 21st century. When it comes to business, big data offers unprecedented insight, improved decision-making, and untapped sources of profit.

And yet ask a chief technology officer to define big data and he or she will stare at the floor.

The above statement speaks volumes on a few fronts when it comes to innovation.

  1. The CTO is the target for big data. They are dealing with bits and bytes, data analytics, NoSQL, Hadoop, etc. Not the actual content of the analytics. So why are we focused on the CTO, the person who is probably most disconnected from your businesses consumer. Is the CTO the next CMO?
  2. The notion that computational analytics can provide true insight to your What it actually does is provide true insight to all the businesses that you compete with. Big data is a wide sweeping look at volumes of data from across different spectrums. Data can be manipulated to make it look like how you want it to as well. The veracity of the data must always be in question and is there truly a way to test it?
  3. The median amount of data that companies “compute” is 300 terabytes per week. Thet are analyzing business transactions, relational databases, documents, email, sensor data, blogs, social-media (and whatever is next). At some point business will be forcing the next unstructured data set into what they have, therefore force fitting something that might not fit and therefore may skew results (no matter how inconsequential).

Can we question big data decision-making? If you do, then you are most likely going against the grain of the logic that is provided by big data. Proof is in the math. Big data has to be right, doesn’t it? The issue that we need to keep in mind is that the dominant online business models in which advertising is the primary source of revenue largely drive this data flow. The information is useful, in general, however I would not bet 100% of my business on it. So, how can we rely on big data to innovate? I say we can’t, we can use big data to renovate our business.

The utopian future of innovation is the future of ideals that we should all strive. It can offer a commentary on society (the rights and wrongs) and what we should improve or change.

This is where innovation shines brightly. You cannot make sweeping business changes with out innovation. You cannot get your consumers to react to your brands simply by using the same data as your consumer (yes, your consumer behave the same way with you as they do with your competitors). In general, you need to be different.

  • Big data has told us to have a social media strategy.
  • Big data has told us to make our website more user friendly and create an experience.
  • Big data has told us that it takes 4-7 visits to your website before someone buys.
  • Big data has told us…etc…

What big data cannot tell you is what motivates your consumers to buy, to refer and to return.   Seeing consumer behaviors and motivations in action provides far more opportunities for you to innovate with your business.

To do things differently, to innovate, you have to take risks. Risks that others are not willing to take. Recognizing that there is the change of failure—or not as much success as you hoped. Big data can help you steer your business in the right direction, albeit the same direction as all your competitors. Only people, your people who have energy to do things differently with the business to meet consumers needs.

So, what does my utopian future of innovation look like?

  • Your employees engaged with your business. Working as if they were the brands and products you represent.
  • Your brand directors taking chances to go against the big data grain. Experimenting when things are good and bad.
  • Your business creating new avenues to interact with the customer. They always say “What is old is new again…” What does that look like for your brands and your consumers?

A more personal connection with the ecosystem that is your product, brand, consumer, business world; all interacting and feeding off of each other so that you are more agile so that you can continue to renovate after you innovate.


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