Why Everything is Now a Smoothie Bowl

This is probably me, but I have always associated the smoothie bowl as a representative icon of what people seem to refer as “the hipster movement”. That and the brand “Supreme” which for the love of God I cannot wrap my head around. This is not a discussion on “the hipster movement”. Actually, its not even about smoothie bowls. At most, it is about a proverbial smoothie bowl. For those who is me a month ago and have no idea what I’m on about; this is a smoothie bowl.

This is a smoothie bowl. Photo owned by www.simple-veganista.com

What I find amusing about the smoothie bowl is three pronged: 1) Is really pretty to look at, so always Instagram worthy (read: “instagrammable”), 2) Is amazing how so many different “stuff” can be thrown into a bowl, ends up as a muck and doesn’t taste horrible (some questionnable, some I find quite moorish), and 3) The pricing on these things are ludacris but yet it seems a lot of people are consuming on a regular frequency (no judgements, just an observation).

Specifically, for me number 2 is most intriguing. While in the case of smoothie bowls that is a matter of taste palette, the point is that it works. The many ingredient thrown into a smoothie bowl culminating into a singular new flavor is essentially the recipe for the modern day intepretation of the “melting pot” isn’t it? And I think this is why its an appropriate analogy for the proposed discussion in this post.

Let me explain by first putting forth the thesis that human civilization have experienced progress of thought in an exponential speed the past decade, that currently it is no longer the age of innovation of singularity but more of innovation in convergence.

Why Shift from Invention to Innovation?

I think the start of this discussion begins with time. What differs today from two hundred years ago is time. Stay with me, I know its blatantly obvious. But even beyond that, time is a benchmark against all change. Two hundred years ago people relied on fire to illuminate the night, which is a need as we are not nocturnal beings. There was no other alternative, until someone came up with the idea of running electricity through wire, and voila we had lamps. It was probably the biggest undertaking in Alfa-Edison’s career to come up with the mechanics of how things work, but in concept it was simple. The pattern of innovation at that time was to create something from nothing. And this was highly plausible and had its own “market” (probably explains why the profession “inventor” is more common then than now) since not many things or ideas have been created. Ever since key inventions like the steam engine, human civilization been growing at an unprecedented scale and new “somethings” began filling the void of the “nothings”

This, is of course brilliant. Both for them who lived in that time, and for us who live in the now. If it weren’t for that lamp, maybe people would never have came up with the technology behind the screen that allows you to read this article; all powered by nano led panel, which essentially, are lamps. But the offspring of that development is there are now far less “nothings” that can be filled by simply inventing “something”. Most things that a human could ever need, even before we knew we needed it, have more or less been found.

But let’s go back to that screen technology on our smartphones. This is important as it also shows a point. The phone; the device that allows us to communicate with someone without needing to be right next to them or the need to send letters through an owl (a pidgeon if you’re a muggle) is essentially Graham-Bell’s invention. That is also an invention; from “nothing” to “something”. But then the problem with phones that Mr Bell created is that we need to be where the phone is to communicate to people; as the phone itself is cable-dependant.

This was initially probably not a problem, as people in the early days probably had more consistend decision-making and not make an appointment to meet at a Starbucks outlet to suddenly remember they are too artisanal to drink overpriced generic coffee and needed to tell their friends to go to an artisan coffee shop instead while being on the road. When people become fussier, they need more things. And this essentially is how industrial consumerism works.

But there is no point in creating a telephone, as 1) it has been invented, and 2) that doesn’t solve the problem. So they came up with something that made the telephone better: they put antennas and removed cables. You see, the way I see it, this is not an invention. I think in many ways Cambridge people agree with me. As it is refining what has been created; it is more an innovation than an invention. Or, people at Apple would call it “re-invention” when they’re so giddy about something utterly brilliant but yet we don’t need but we’ll adopt anyway.

When people needed to see more information than ever before on the one thing they always carry (which is not even their wallets) (the phone), that’s when they created larger, better, more responsive screens. Having reached this point of the discussion, is where I point out that the reason of the “innovation in convergence” argument is because of the screens on your smartphones: an innovation converging the inventions of lamps, phones, electricity storage, cameras, etc. It is both driven by demand and by availability of “nothings” that can be filled that shaped that innovation is now not about creating one great, shiny, single thing now one has ever thought of before; but it’s rather of converging what has been made before and make it do something better.

Why Does it Start With a Smoothie Bowl?

It doesn’t. But when I think about the loop back to the thesis that one could not really come up with something completely new, but rather combine different things to add value and create something new from that, the thought goes back to the smoothie bowl.

Now, while the above is me pretending I know a fair share on industrial economy, the function of that was to paint the picture. That right now, innovation comes not from creating but from converging. I imagine this is true probably in all sectors imaginable, but let’s talk about the environmental/sustainability sector as that is closer to home for me.

This of course has a lot to do with the things I talked about in the previous two posts. Let me introduce an observation that have led me to believe right now, in the attempt to achieve green growth, low-carbon development, climate change adaptation and mitigation, the industry seems to have reached a plateau. I may be blinded by the fact that this observation simply stems from the project designs that’s addressed to where I work, but the pattern seems to show that between one project and another the singularity of identity seems to become more of a rare commodity. I think at some point I mentioned to a friend, “without mentioning the name and proponent of a project proposal, sometimes I can never really tell one proposal from another”.

Perhaps, from a portfolio management point of view this can be a good thing as people are standardized and uniform in the way they create project designs. But on the other hand it is also stale, uncreative, and so efficient that seems more of a corporate way of doing social projects. What this breeds is repetition, I think, and this is a problem in the sector. Nowadays, there is a generation of people who have been in the industry for more than a decade or two, whereas the threat of environmental destruction, degradation, and climate change is as real as ever. To say that the efforts committed until presently is useless, is a major understatement. I’d like to think that the matter is more of: the scope of issues and problems faced in the industry is growing, but the people who should be the spearhead for solutions are not growing with the cause of the problem. Because there is a shortage of innovation.

This is where I argue to think like a smoothie bowl. In the sense that it is paramount for project designs to attempt to look at recipes that would otherwise be considered as unorthodox to explore what new flavor would emerge.

Let’s try and play around with ideas and see if any possible smoothie bowl recipes may emerge.

One of the hotbed of issues when we talk about encouraging sustainable practices among palm oil smallholders is how to come up with a refinancing model for replantation efforts that is both comfortable for fund sources (banks, financial institution, so on) and for the user-base (smallholder farmers, cooperatives, so on). To draw a very simple-minded conclusion; one of the issues is actually risk. The way banks conventionally measure and weigh risk of potential borrowers are not applicable towards a group of farmers whose land is not certified because it was given down from generation to generation to them. This makes the economy of risk-hedging through collateral become stale. But what if we were to look at how emerging startups focused on developing fintech (financial technology) solutions that comes up with a model to pull, extract, and utilise big data to create an information database regarding transactional history of the farmers to replace the need for a physical collateral? Technically, fintech startups are able to do this, and going to a more rural demography may come with a set of challenges, but it does not seem impossible.

Lets move on to land legality issues, as this seems also like an interesting topic. One of the many problems faced with a country as large as Indonesia is that it is rather difficult to maintain a central system that can acknowledge and validate the traffic of land ownership, which in many cases when trying to certify smallholder farmers is one of the major hurdles. While not a solution for the current condition, what if we looked at using blockchain technology to power land registry systems to prevent future disputes? Countries like Georgia, Romania, Sweden, and Ukraine are now developing and experimenting the use of hashes (or nodes) to identify, acknowledge, confirm, and validate every real estate transaction. This is plausible as the blockchain utilizes a decentralized paradigm where the system is not reliant on one house, but rather a networkd of houses that works in unison to complete a function. The fact that it is decentralized also helps with the registry being public, transparent, and fully accessible for everyone. I have even heard of blockchain technologies being used by an online timber marketplace to function as a way to verify legality and certification of the timber products being offered in the marketplace.

The possibility, as you may agree with me, seem to be endless.

What I’m saying is that, if a bowl consisting of a frozen banana, some berries, a dragon fruit, some dried seeds, and a blender can come up with a new flavor never thought of before, I think there is always room to experiment ideas and technologies never thought to be relevant with the environment/sustainability sector. And that’s how, I would argue, one should innovate nowadays: to start thinking as if you’re about to make yourself a smoothie bowl.