Saturday, 22 August 2009

Not just a bloody-minded endurance goon...

...turns out people think I've got a brain as well!

Have just found out I've won the Ashridge Sustainable Innovation Award - an essay contest open to MBA students from all around the world. Can't quite believe, but as a result I'm off to Sweden in November to receive my prize from Maud Oloffson, the Swedish Vice Prime-Minister... just run a quick check and it looks like it will be possible to make the trip overland, although it might take a few days. It's really interesting for me, looking back at this essay now, as I wrote it back in May. There's a few ideas in there that have formed a little more in the intervening period though - there's some version of the Phoenix Economy recognised in there, for example.

Nice moment when I heard the news though - I was halfway through a 100 mile ride, and standing on a bridge in Henley on Thames, when I picked up the voicemail. Nearly dropped my bike in the river!

Exec summary:
In two very different parts of the world today, two very different innovation programmes are under way in the same industry. In America, President Obama is struggling to convince Detroit that 0.5% of the cars on the road in 2015 should be plug-in hybrids; in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus has got Volkswagen biting his arm off to deliver a widely affordable, pollution-free vehicle whose engine can be removed to act as a domestic generator. So what’s going on?

There are three lessons we can learn by comparing and contrasting these two innovation programmes, and looking for further examples from across the world.

First of all, we must learn to start from scratch, which is coming easier to Bangladesh than the USA. Economic cycles happen for a reason; because our thinking needs to evolve to deal better with the context. Some technologies and institutions need to fail for the new to come through. The British (and Bangladeshi) energy industry is starting to show the truth of this as well.

Secondly, we must put financial value in its proper place, as a servant to the generation of real value. True innovation has never, and will never come from an obsession with financial value; indeed, the spreading trend for Gillette Innovation in the developed world shows this to be the case.

Finally, we must learn to distinguish needs from wants, and focus our energy on satisfying these. The work of Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef is extremely helpful in this, and help us understand that there remains a huge innovation gap in the ‘developed’ world.

If we follow these three rules, all innovation will naturally follow to deliver a low carbon economy; if we do not, a true low carbon economy is an impossibility. And it is the responsibility of business to lead us there.

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