Omdat Peter Cooper zijn gehoor op IT Innovation Day in het Engels zal toespreken, hebben we ervoor gekozen ook dit interview in het Engels te doen.
What does innovation mean to you?
In my eyes, the best innovations have three key qualities. The first is about new meanings. I think many people are struck with inspiration, take that idea and set out to translate it into value and in turn that value into money. Starting with an end in mind they often miss the most beautiful part - what is the meaning of their innovation? Why would people care? The 2 or 3 words that describe the better world they're aiming to bring. Youtube started out as an attempt to democratise video creation and sharing. AirBnB as a vision that anyone's house can be a hotel for the day. Neither started with money as an end, more a small slice of a new world order, and invariably found money as a pleasant benefit on the way to making that better world.
The second is about hopping from one curve to an entirely new one - taking a functionality in society and flipping it on its head. Many giant corporate R&D departments really toil and bleed to optimise the current ways of doing things, and sometimes you have to look at them and think, are you part of the cure, or are you part of the disease?
Peter Cooper is Research Engineer Smart Cities bij de University of Bristol. Hij spreekt op IT Innovation Day over "Everything is Different, but Nothing has Changed: Are Digital Business Models the Path to the Smart City?" Zijn twitteraccount is @_P_B_C_.
Ultimately though, for me, innovation is all about shaping a better world. The challenges that we face over the next 50 years cannot be dealt with - or even understood - in the same thinking that created them. When we innovated historically we often assessed new ideas in isolation, and didn't think about them 'systematically' as we'd say today - noticing that glorious high capacity motorways just induce travel and no one ends up getting anywhere any faster. It greatly concerns me that if we don't assess how innovations change society as a whole, we risk kidding ourselves that we've made a world where everything is different, but in reality, nothing has changed.
What do you see as a main obstacle for innovation?
Effort, lag and purpose.
It's very easy to do things the way we have always done. We perceive it to be low risk, and we fear losing everything from the advent of a different world.
At the same time, we know change is the only constant, but there's convincing evidence it's accelerating, and often by the time we realise we are set to lose everything because we're doing this the way we always have done, the writing is already on the walls. This isn't a new phenomenon, but the stakes are getting higher. Maybe in the mid 00s that might mean waving goodbye to Blockbuster. In 2040, it might mean waving good bye to a selection of coastal cities.
Finally, one of the reasons it takes a great deal of guts to stand up and suggest an entirely different way of doing something is to do with how people view their own purpose. We've bred a world where people regularly define themselves by what they do - I sell cars - rather than the value they bring to society - I help people get around. This is why we typically wait for new disruptive forces to emerge from tiny start-ups before we have change - incumbents are still too busy living in a world with a Henry Ford logic, shouting 'we need faster horses'.
What does smart technology mean for you now, tomorrow and the future?
I tend to think that smart technology is very little to do with technology, and a great deal to do with change. That's not to say a tiny air quality sensor, a powerful combination of performance and low cost, isn't a technological marvel that we cannot begin to fathom the potential of. But as much as it is the revolutionary enabler, without a problem that needs to be solved, skilled individuals who know how the data could be used to address it, a business model, sympathetic policy, public support and a myriad of other factors in the digital ecosystem, it's worth more to me as a tiny doorstop.
Today I think that smart technology is shedding its furs as a buzz word - a crime for which the blood is really on our own hands - and tomorrow it'll be something that public and private sector companies will universally take as seriously as they do 'finance' or 'HR'.
And in the future, as all good innovations, I think we'll be transformed by its existence, but we'll come to see it as ubiquitous and largely taken for granted in discussion - much like we do today with the chair.
How can CIO's and other C-level staff give innovation a role within their daily job/policy?
The best thing that a C-level member can do is to stop. Pause for a moment and say, 'why do I do this? What are we really trying to achieve here?' Often we are too busy in our own worlds, iterating on day-to-day decisions we don't step back to imagine an entirely different way of achieving what we are trying to achieve.
We should be aiming to disrupt strategically on a monthly basis. Dissect what your organisation believes to be its most important beliefs. Reframe the problem. Try turning it on its head. What if?
We live in an exciting time where many radical approaches in one industry can be transplanted to another at the other end of the economy (particularly those caused by IT) - what if I aimed to be effective rather than efficient? Can I treat customers more like unique individuals rather than broad segments? What if rather than selling products I translate what I offer into a service? Can I expand my system boundary and have a greater role in the provision of the functionality I'm striving to offer a customer?
For CIOs specifically it's about top down and bottom up approaches simultaneously - what are the major problems in my company? What is the information I have (or could have)? Then the important bit - and the hardest - how could this data act as a raw material in a process that solves that?
For leadership more broadly, no one man is a IT innovation island. A culture should be shaped that encourages all staff to do these things in their own remits. And it can involve some uncomfortable truths - allow people to disagree with their bosses; promote non-hierarchical structures; allow those with passion for an idea a little time to find its meaning even if its immediate commercial value isn't immediate clear; allow for flaws in your revolution and for new pilots to be just good enough. Ownership, community, trust and are essential if your workforce are going to be creative and empowered to roll the dice.
Where do you believe the biggest innovation opportunities are at this moment?
My perspective on this is invariably skewed by my own focus on reshaping the built environment, but for me, new innovative ways of public and private sector collaboration is a long but transformative path that we've only taken 2 steps down. We're making a great deal of progress on how technology can change the relationship between the government and citizens, empowering electorates and informing politicians of the issues affecting all segments of society.
Yet we have made little progress on the private sector side - we still see manufacturers selling cars while cities sweat to disincentivize people from using one. We arrange contracts for the design of major transport infrastructure without linking remuneration to how much it actually helps people move around. We outsource social services to the lowest bidders even though we know efficiency-based care causes vulnerable people to re-enter the system and cost us more in the long run.
We are beginning to see new disruptive firms being more aware of the systematic benefits they are bringing to our cities, and governments being more forthcoming with support for those that bring positive benefit. We're beginning to see these firms making first steps - exchanging data, moving contracts to be about outcomes - but I believe we're on the brink of a new era where cities confidently state the systematic cost of an urban problem (thanks to better data management) - a homeless person, a 1% increase in PM2.5, etc. - and roll out powerful incentive landscapes for companies who help address these, making social enterprise a corner stone of all corporations.