Nothing says “success” like wretched excess, or so it would seem. A challenge of innovation today is the overwhelming perception of its strong bias for fostering rampant consumption. The drive to acquire the new and improved has overwhelmed a mid-20th century view of making do an repairing things to extend their useful life. Now new products and services are created and go in search of markets and customers placing burdens on resources, ecosystems, and personal economies. The necessary is trumped by the pretty. The essential is supplanted novel. The vital and nourishing is squeezed out by the unimportant and artificial. To what end?
To convert the business man into the profiteer is to strike a blow at capitalism, because it destroys the psychological equilibrium which permits the perpetuance of unequal rewards. The businessman is only tolerable so long as his gains can be held to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society.
– John Maynard Keynes
(Quoted in Keynes and Capitalism, Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman, History of Political Economy, 2009)
Innovation should be about creating value; not only the short-term value of satisfying basic needs, but addressing long-term complex challenges that require sustained attention and focus. Much of the innovation we acknowledge is focused on a customer, their experience, and the momentary satisfiers at play. Innovation is being wed to the bright and shiny in a shotgun marriage of inconvenience. We need more and should expect more from innovation than something new to buy.
I create nothing. I own.
– Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in Wall Street
As a short-term game innovation without an eye to longevity yields hit and miss return. When it works it might be a tremendous success (think fads, like Crocs – the ugliest shoes on the planet) but often market-focused innovation responds to a surface need and does not address the deep and abiding need present in a customer’s circumstances. Perhaps we need to consider innovation in deeper and more abiding terms and ask ourselves:
- How might we truly seek to create value?
- How might we create in a ways that are both additive and generative?
- How might we practice and foster stewardship in lieu of ownership?
Something tells me that there has to be an innovation-based answer to the issue of rampant and unflagging consumerism. What do you think?
After posting this a link came our way from an interview between Joel Makower, Group Chairman of GreenBiz Group, and Yves Chouinard, the Founder and CEO of Patagonia that is very relevant. The full post is here.