Jo Nussbaum Guest Blog: Is innovation about complexity or simplicity?

There is a desperate need and, I would say, a desperate desire in our society today for innovation. We complain about rigid rules and same-old techniques in business and hold up companies like Google, with its 20% rule which enables engineers to spend one day a week working on projects outside their job descriptions, as the holy grail of workplaces. We embrace new technologies such as Twitter and iPads and shun ‘outdated’ objects such as CD players and notepads. We want something new, something exciting, something big – and we want to feel part of it.

Our way of life is changing, and there are numerous complex issues facing our generation. The global population is ageing and becoming more urban; diseases which have been eradicated in the western world continue to blight developing countries; countries once shrouded in secrecy have opened their borders; technology has enabled instant communication across social classes and nations; energy security has been shaken and alternative sources are being championed by many; and the recent financial crisis has shattered our trust in companies and institutions.

It is easy to look at the challenges we face and feel overwhelmed. We cannot conceive of a way to solve them, given the extraordinary complexity of the modern world. Every part of society must respond, from education systems to the business world and political structures to retail environments. But are we in danger of making the process of finding a solution too complicated?

Perhaps in our desire for something new, something big, we are overlooking the simplicity of innovation. An innovative idea doesn’t have to be the most complex one, something that only a few can understand. The solutions to the challenges facing our world will need to cross borders and social classes, so they cannot be dependent on culture, income or social structure.

Innovation isn’t only about invention. It isn’t focused on finding the new, rather it seeks to find the better and strive for the best. Many of the most innovative ideas we have seen in recent times have been the result of combining existing ideas in simple ways. For example:

  • The iPod wasn’t the first product of its kind, but it was innovative because of the way it combined existing technologies into one easy-to-use, accessible and transportable product and has led to a series of spin-offs.
  • Mobile banking, which has transformed the way millions of people in countries such asKenyaandIndiado business and manage their money, simply combined services that already existed and made them relevant to new situations.
  • Loyalty programmes, such as frequent flier reward miles, were introduced a few years ago as an innovative expansion of existing marketing strategies but are now standard practice for many businesses.
  • And the social network Twitter isn’t really that different to previous platforms and websites, but when combined with video phones and mobile access around the world it has radically changed the global media landscape.

Perhaps the key to addressing the challenges the world is facing isn’t in trying to think of totally new ideas, but finding ways that existing concepts, behaviours and technologies can be combined and improved to do something truly innovative.

Jo Nussbaum

Consultant, Linstock Communications

@jo_nussbaum

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