Innovators shape the future — we should take responsibility for a better one.

The people making the stuff that shapes the future, should be responsible for how this stuff impacts the future. I’m talking about professional innovators, the people whose job it is to research and create new products in all sectors, from sexy sci-fi tech to baked beans.

This point sounds so basic that it doesn’t merit the screen space. But as the world seems to be heading towards a car crash, the point needs reiterating.

Stock photo tree-building depiction of the future. Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

In debates around AI/blockchain/gene editing (etc.) the argument of “it’ll only be bad, if we let it be bad” is often made by proponents when faced with questions how innovations will impact future society.

The argument that “this stuff will be OK, if we make it OK” only works if the people responsible for driving forward the future of consumption are actively tasked with making it OK.

Product managers, innovators, intraprenuers, technologists, consumer researchers, all professions scattered across this weird grey area — we craft the future. Yet looking at the job specs in the area, rarely do they explicitly mentions sustainability or social impact.

For this to work, responsibility needs to be become an explicit component of the main innovation engine. It doesn’t work to have some people pushing forward the growth agenda, and others picking up the pieces of sustainability.

Here are some practical steps forward:

  • Innovation jobs should have defined sustainability responsibility to complement growth responsibility.
  • Product development processes should have defined steps where sustainability is considered.
  • Consultancies touting innovation methods should include demarcated steps assessing social impact and sustainability.
  • Product visions, whatever the product, should answer the question: how does this make the world a better place?
  • Models that we use to define busineses, like the lean business model canvas, should answer similar questions. For exampe, the business canvas model can be adaptated to include Impact as a measure, see an example found on the net:

I’m not an innovation angel. At the less picky beginning of my career, I worked on a cocktail of vices like chocolate, a tobacco product, spirits, cider and even digital pawn* (*not porn). But these days I’m trying to at least prioritise projects which ideally contribute to a better world. Let’s call it an anti-dystopia principle of project selection.

To sum up: wherever there is growth it should come hand-in-hand with responsibility. Which means professional innovators should start taking responsibility for the social impact and sustainability of their work, rather than leaving it to other professions or departments to pick up the pieces.

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