Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Why choose transformative over sustaining innovation?

“For both the poor of the world living in largely degraded ecosystems and the so- called wealthy in the developed world, transformational change now seems to be required. Humanity cannot survive without functional ecosystems, and the actions of all people are needed to act together as a species on a planetary scale.” — John D. Liu (2011: 24)

Clayton Christensen (1997) identified two fundamentally different kinds of innovation. The most common kind simply aims to keep ‘business as usual’ going on for longer by improving upon already established ways of doing things and existing systems structures. It helps a company, organization or culture to keep doing what it is known for and used to without fundamentally changing services, products or the system’s structure and identity. Christensen called this ‘sustaining innovation’, not because it is ‘sustainable’ but because it sustains ‘business as usual’ and helps established systems to function in the way they are used to.

We live in extraordinary times

We are living in extraordinary times and transformation is already happening and accelerating all around us. In almost every area of our lives old structures are breaking down as we witness the unfolding impacts of unprecedented technological innovation. All of this is happening within the context of an expanding human population, profound societal and economic transformation on all continents, and — most urgent of all — a dangerous destabilization of global and local climate patterns.

Transformation is inevitable and already under way

The transformations afoot today will reshape the human presence on Earth in less than a century, and if we want to have a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ we need to learn how to see all the diverse change processes and transformations as part of a systemic transition which we are unable to control but which we can navigate more wisely if we learn to ask the appropriate questions.

The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change

The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change (Illustration Flavia Gargiulo adapted from International Futures Forum with permission, in Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Christian Wahl)



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Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures