Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher once said, “πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) — everything flows.” In modern-day English, this translates to the age-old adage “the only constant in life is change.” Everything is in a constant state of flux, whether that’s the things or people around us, or even ourselves. Change is a universal fact of life and because of this, we can say that innovation is inevitable. It will happen, whether we want it or not. The only question is when.
The field of sustainability is steeped in traditioned innovation.
In recent years, we’ve seen numerous developments in the field of sustainability. These were primarily driven by an increasingly vocal group of scientists, world leaders, and members of civil society who saw the importance of urgently pushing the sustainability agenda today, rather than later, in order to safeguard the future of humanity. In the past decade alone, this resulted in the adoption of major initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
These “innovations” in sustainability had organizations actively looking into how to change their business model in the next few years to promote more sustainable practices. These may entail going back to the R&D drawing board and redesigning products to consume fewer resources and materials, expanding the utility of existing products by identifying an alternative use for them, as well as expanding into providing supporting services such as repairs & maintenance. At present, there’s even a fair number of companies that are in the process of executing their plans.
In this regard, it’s also quite worthwhile to note how “tradition” serves as a foundation for these innovations. Going back to the two global initiatives I mentioned, those are in fact revamped sustainability campaigns that were built upon earlier versions, the UN Millennium Development Goals and the Kyoto Protocol respectively, as a response to the demands of the changing times.
Another popular sustainability topic nowadays is the concept of the circular economy, which the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explains as being based upon the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. Personally, I find traditioned innovation to be an underlying theme of the circular economy. This is because the circular economy is all about getting the maximum possible value out of an existing product (tradition) by going beyond and revisiting how it can be used alternatively (innovation) once it’s no longer appropriate for its originally intended purpose.
To me, these are but a few instances that showcase why tradition and innovation are both needed together in creating solutions that respond to actual needs.
MODERN PROBLEMS REQUIRE MODERN SOLUTIONS
We need to innovate because we need to be flexible and adaptable to change. With new information coming in every second, the key to a successful organization in modern society is being agile in finding the right solutions to get things done. At times, this means thinking out of the box to find creative solutions like how business models have changed their service delivery models in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other times require us to break barriers and take in different perspectives. This is why it’s important to empower those who may not be heard.
TRADITION IS SIMPLY OLD INNOVATION
This is why looking back is important in creating new solutions. Fresh ideas are, more often than not, ultimately good; however, they can be unwelcome without the proper context. The reason why the greatest scientists in our history were often labelled heretics (such as Galileo) is that they ran contrary to what was held to be conventional wisdom. It took a group of likeminded people, a society, to mutually agree that these theories were true before they were taken to be fact.
To gain support for innovation, we first need to have a good grasp of how things came to be. We also need a common purpose, shared values that bring people together. To do things faster and better, we need to look to history, learn and build upon it and get people on board to help. Most of the countries that are heralded as examples of what a good COVID-19 response should look like learned from prior outbreaks and made preparations to respond to new pandemics.
THE KEY TO TRADITIONED INNOVATION IS DESIGN THINKING
The first step is to empathize. As a management consultant, I’ve seen instances of successful and failed change projects at companies. The key difference was that successful innovation teams had been able to truly understand what was at stake. They did the necessary research and took the time to gather insights from the people around them. This is also a great time to gather allies to support you on the change to be implemented.
Next, try to find a logical structure to the data and define the problem. This is extremely crucial to design thinking as this would determine what solutions the innovation team would come up with. In the process of creating the ideal solution, it is important to remember that oftentimes, there are multiple ways to go about developing it. In fact, it may even be worthwhile to develop multiple prototypes just so that the team would have options to pick from in case the first one doesn’t work out during testing.
Most importantly, we must remember that design thinking and traditioned innovation is a continuous cycle. As change continues to happen, so must the process of inventing and reinventing solutions.
In conclusion — why traditioned innovation? Because it’s a winning formula that creates the best solution in the shortest time.
The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Services Philippines Co. Ltd. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.
Rochelle Dichaves, CPA, GRCP, GRCA, is a manager with the Management & Risk Consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Services Philippines Co. Ltd., a Philippine member firm of the PwC network.
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