Openness to Enable Next Generation Innovation for Food & Agriculture

Check out the TFF Playbook on Next Generation Innovation for more ideas and inspiration!

The future — we each have our own feelings about what it means for us. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it is going to be different.

In fact, in today’s world, the only thing we can count on IS change — and data shows, change is happening faster than ever. It used to take decades for leaps of progress to happen. Now, it’s a matter of months, sometimes even days.

How do we keep up?

Through my experience working with our Thought For Food global community of young entrepreneurs and innovators, I have discovered an exciting framework for innovation and collaboration that I believe will help all of us keep up and thrive in our world that is changing faster than ever.

I call it this framework next generation innovation (I have been writing about it a bit here, and I also spoke about it recently in this podcast with ScienceDisrupt) — and, in summary, it is an approach to solving the big, interrelated challenges our world faces by tapping into 6 “next generation” attitudes:

  • Openness
  • Collaboration
  • Beginner’s Mindset
  • Entrepreneurial Methods
  • Purpose Before Paycheck
  • “Larger-than-Life” Energy

The reason I call it next generation innovation is because, as it happens, the leaders of the next generation are literally hardwired with these attitudes.

As the first generation to grow up immersed in our digitally-connected, VUCA world, the next generation knows nothing else than expecting big changes to happen and to adapting to these changes quickly. As digital natives with unlimited and constant access to information, young people are adept at connecting dots and creating communities both online and off. And because they are young and idealistic, they are guided by strong values and are fearless risk takers, unencumbered by entrenched ways of thinking and doing.

Leveraging all of these innate characteristics and more, the leaders of the next generation are leading a movement of change and ingenuity across all sectors — especially in food and agriculture.

So, how can next generation innovation help you?

The good news is this: you don’t have to be a millenial or GenZ to take advantage of this powerful mindset and approach. Next generation innovation is something anyone can do.

It’s just about adopting a more collaborative attitude, embracing a curious outlook, taking an entrepreneurial and experimental approach to problem-solving, and priortizing purpose and impact throughout life and business.

In today’s post, I want to explore in a bit more depth the the first key enabling attitude for next-generation innovation: openness.

Openness in this context means actively seeking out diverse ideas, perspectives and experiences. It means looking outside of our bubbles, and engaging with a variety of people, topics and industries. The associations that we create between these types of inspiration helps us to forge previously unexplored connections, and thus create new opportunities.

Clayton Christenson points out in his HBR article titled “The Innovators DNA” that “the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields is central to the innovator’s DNA.”

Entrepreneur Frans Johansson calls this the “Medici Effect,” referring to the creative explosion that occurred when the Medici family in Italy brought together a wide variety of disciplines — painters, sculptors, poets, scientists and philosophers and more. As these individuals connected, new ideas blossomed at the intersection of their respective fields, thereby spawning the Renaissance.

And, Matt Ridley, author of the book The Rational Optimist, claims that breakthrough innovation is about “ideas having sex.” In other words, idea generation is a function of idea interaction.

Steve Jobs also once similarly spoke of the benefits of diverse inputs: the bigger your “bag of experiences,” he said, the more varied the connections you can make between things–such as between technology and the liberal arts.

Of course, the idea of innovation happening as a result of openness and connecting dots isn’t new to next generation innovation. Inventors like Ford, Fleming and Edison all borrowed from other industries to create the solutions that made them famous.

But, what is unique about the current innovation environment is our ability to access unlimited dots of opportunity!

The internet has radically transformed the potential volume and diversity of our access to dots — whether they be people, companies, ideas, facts or experiences. While Henry Ford may have been inspired by visiting an assembly line a few times in the meat packing industry, today’s innovators are exposed to an infinite number of “assembly lines” every day through the world of connected devices.

What’s more — access to open tools for research such as cloud laboratories (like Transcriptic), open data (like GODAN) and open collaboration platforms (like Climate CoLab or InnoCentive), as well as to small- and large-means of production (fab-labs, makerspaces and 3D printing) have also opened up the possibility for more people to create and produce things at scale.

Inherent to an attitude of openness is, of course, curiousity. In today’s world, being curious is just as important (if not more important!) for success than IQ and EQ. Next gen innovators understand this, and leverage their intrinsic curiosity to ask lots of questions: Why? What if? What would it it take?

Many argue that Steve Jobs’ success was due to his curiosity. Writing in Forbes, August Turak states: Jobs wasn’t curious about things that would make him successful. He was successful because he was so curious.

Next generation innovators understand that one of the best ways to both fuel and quench curiousity is by being open. This allows you to break free of your familar confines and be introduced to fresh perspectives. If you are constantly tapping into your existing network to think about things — well, after a while it is like fishing in the same pond. You eventually exhaust that resource.

The winners of the future will be those with access to new and unexpected forms of insights and unconventional partnerships. That’s why next generation innovators are always out there exploring new ponds.

Leveraging Openness

It’s one thing to believe openness is important (and hopefully I have convinced you that it is!) — it’s another to find ways to incorporate it in your business and daily life.

Here are some relatively easy-to-implement ideas that you can start to apply right away:

  • Subscribe to magazines or newsletters from completely unrelated fields — for example, sign up to get daily updates from diverse sources of inspiration like BrainPickings, Deezeen, VICE or WIRED.
  • Hold regular “creativity check-ins” at work, where you invite colleagues to meet to discuss a Big Idea from a seemingly random place of inspiration — pull out themes to discuss from emerging fields of technology, as well as from books, movies, politics and the arts.
  • When you attend external events, go to the sessions that have nothing to with your day job, or network with people who don’t think like you. Also, in your free time, push yourself to try strange things in order to get out of your comfort zone — for example: weird foods, bad movies or books about topics you know nothing about.
  • Try openning up yourself, and share information about the things you know and care about, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. You’ll be surprised that you actually create more value for yourself by freely “giving away” what you know. Author Paul Allen points out that sharing your ideas and knowledge will free your mind to attract even more new and better ideas. Try it and see!

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about how openness can be applied to address our innovation needs, especially when it comes to tackling food and nutrition security.

Do you agree or disagree with the points I make here? Do you have any specific examples that you can share? Email me your feedback to christine@tffchallenge.com.

In my next post, I’ll explore COLLABORATION as the next enabling attitude for next generation innovation. Stay tuned!