Thursday, March 24, 2011

Socratic Innovation

By Humberto Schwab, Philosopher
Director, Club of Amsterdam

Innovation is on the lips of all strategic leaders and all not-strategic leaders. If we look back at the figures worldwide about the increase of Internet connections and the increase of mobile phone connections, even in Africa or Latin America; we know innovation is not any longer something you can do or something you chose. If you do not innovate you will run out of business, unless you have good traditional craftsmanship products. One thing is four sure: in our hyper-fast information driven world, good traditional values are cornerstones of trust. For all the other stuff we must be continuously focused on the sustainability and effectiveness of our client approaches.

It is not that products and services are changing rapidly, it is the fact that they can be reached in complete new ways, that they can be produced in complete new ways and that the information about these facts uses new ways. These factors can change the character of product.

The techniques of making products ors services are most of the time creations of intelligent designers dealing with visions and imagination on the one hand and technical limitations to that vision and imagination on the other hand.

Products and services are answers to real needs or desires of people like you and me or are strong new imaginations of new human needs or experiences, or put in another way are incentives for new needs and desire. All these new and old desires and needs are part of the rich "human experience".

The discussion is of course always legitimate about the question; if a certain product, services or (nowadays) application factually serves a real need, an authentic need or ultimately a good need. This debate is ongoing since Plato.

The desire to smoke cigarettes was a strong need, probably generated and in any way enhanced by the "Dandy" culture of the "roaring twenties". The culture nestled this need in the hearts and minds of the people. I myself was really in need of cigarettes during almost twenty year. It was not an authentic need but it connected with a body desire, evoked and at the same time satisfied by the nicotine!

The same holds for the television, which generated a need that did not exist before. Although you can say that we had visual needs and we - human creatures - have very strong visual reward systems in our neurological system. The television awakened a visual reward system that was potential present, but evoked and satisfied by the apparatus. It was not an authentic need, but it generated a strong desire and still does to a lot of people.

The wine we drink gives another strong example of another type of need; it is almost a natural desire that stems from our bodily statue. Yet its influence has increased the last decades. We drink more wine, we enjoy more qualities and the new ways of producing, transporting and valorization have even deepened our wine desire and the satisfaction that goes with it. If you are enjoying the wine, you praise the day that somebody taught you how to drink.

If we look for another need, our need to move, to transport ourselves, to travel; the change of the way of moving from horse riding to flying with planes, is paramount.

The human desire is not originally aimed at flying, but it s existence is a perfect match on the cultural and physical needs we have. We want to move on, like nomads and we want to settle down, both genetic engraved drivers that constitute our system. Any innovation of the experience of traveling can count on these inclinations. You can travel fast to exotic places, but you want to feel at settled.

All the examples are nice from the perspective of the contraposition between real needs and artificial needs, or as Rousseau would put it between human needs and alienated needs.

But we might state that almost all our newly created desires are aimed at enriching the human experience, to give daily life experiences more dimension or more quality. Or to say it in another way, it tries to boost the human development, the emancipation to richer forms of life. The question is always did this or that innovation really reached that? We can bluntly mistake ourselves in the value of innovations.

Also we can see that - although bad for our physical and mental health - they all connect with real authentic needs in one way or another. We can sometimes say they are not intelligent connected with our rudimental needs. The smoking is a good example. The destroying of nature in all aspects is quite unintelligent, but as soon as we get awareness of the stupidity of the so-called innovation of human experiences, we will eventually stop it (although sometimes late or too late). But the process of eliminating the value of smoking is unheard. Governments have really innovated their way of dealing with health issues.

Here is where innovation start, innovation is mostly connected with changing old products and services into new varieties or into better qualities of higher level. But if we look at the examples, we can easily say that innovation has to do with the way we create our needs and the way we validate our way of satisfactions.

The reconsidering of the coolness of smoking into coolness without smoking is an innovation of the concept "cool". The same way holds for driving cars: the Prius experience and not BMW one, we innovate the car production lines, but Toyota also innovated our value of the car experience. The noise producing gasoline cars were also creating the value of being heard by everyone in the street, the technical limitations gave form to the product. There were not a few people, who love to hear the sound of noisy gasoline engines!

Nowadays all the car experience is about not being heard outside the car and listening to super hi-fi stereo!

Driving in your hybrid car is a very satisfying and tranquilizing experience.
We want to eat well; we want to eat slowly (after decennia of fast food desires) so we innovate our eating experiences. We want to buy clothes that are made in a fair way, the same for coffee, chocolate etc. that really enriches our experiences.

Eating chocolate did not incorporate - till recently - the aspects of child labor or the suppression of other people. Some people really enjoyed the idea that slaves had worked for their products.

The way we inform, the way we make, and the way we design all innovated the chocolate experience.

So we innovate our parts or building elements of our daily human experiences and we probably practice an evolution in these innovations. Sometimes this evolution is an improvement and sometimes it is an impoverishment (or better put: an erroneous attempt to evolution), but always there is a intrinsic connection with elements of the human neurological and cultural "desire complex". The goal of innovation - at least the intended one - is improvement of the human condition; an improvement of previous solutions, better solution to burning problems, a jump in the possibility of aesthetic-cultural experiences or even the improvement of the concept of human experiences in general.

Of course comes on all these levels the critical question: what is a good innovation, or what are the criteria to measure the value of an innovation?

There are of course different forms of innovations: we just innovate the product, the service, the process, the producer- client relation, the price, the image, the marketing, the business concept or do we innovate the experience related to the original product? Some innovations were really small in the concept but huge in their output. When Ryan air realized that planes are flying machines that ought to be in the sky as much as possible, they drastically innovated the whole flight travel industry. This is fundamentally a "deep dive" reflection on what you really are doing, what your competence is or what your distinctive competence is.

Socratic Innovation
As we see that the scope and dimension of innovation are not or should not be limited, the methods to reach good innovations should be limitless in the creative sense. There are a lot of very expensive managerial systems to trigger innovation. These fixed systems do not serve because they were always constructed in the world preceding the innovation, they will always try the old paradigm to create new concepts, which is contradictory. Or at least it will ignore fissures in the old paradigm.

A real innovation strategy is one which incorporate paradigm switches from any levels. This can also mean a switch on the creation of human desire or human experience.

Steve Jobs: People are in no condition to know what the next star product will be.
Henry Ford: If I would have asked my clients what they wanted, they would have answered: a faster horse!

We have to be able to rethink all the aspects of the human experience with his or that product, service or application. Even old boundaries between separated domains, for example making phone calls and making photographs, should be "virtually" forgotten. To deal with such a demand we need the possibility of reframing completely old concepts, the only honest tool is the Socratic discourse method. It can make fruit of millions of ideas and concepts ever surged in whatever context, so in the domain of the rich Socratic context, every person gets back the chance of testing his or hers most strange, normal or personal idea. The total ocean of ideas is the most open domain to deliver creative open innovation. Every other discipline is stuck to its paradigm; the Socratic paradigm is that we can explore a lot of paradigms.

Most important of all, we have to realize that people are very context dependent; we continuously make the mistake of thinking in dispositions. People of such a background or such a personality will do this or that in whatever circumstances. Psychological investigation shows - over and over again- that the environment influences our inner world profoundly. If we want to create in an innovative way, we have to recreate our way of working or being together. The classical organization of a company is that of an industrial army.

Top down management, task-division, marketing, finance etc. There is a strong hierarchical line within the company; everybody is looking up to and "waiting for " the management and - in some cases - with the backs positioned towards the client. The central fallacy of this system is that the higher you get the better the creative thinking occurs; that individuals have to create smart ideas. And that people have fixed roles in these hierarchies. This classical surrounding puts people in an isolated position. Talking to your staff will not catalyze at once creative collaborative thinking. In normal discussions people will stick to fixed roles and use the same power games over and over again, people with very bright ideas often have a lack of self confidence in articulating them, people who keep silent most of the time think more then people who easy talk; also hierarchical higher personalities taking more speaking time in the assumption that that is the best for everyone.

In the Socratic dialog, this is in a subtle way replaced by a process in which people do not discuss much, but listen more, take more empathic stands and are guided to a more "question oriented" approach then to a solution oriented approach. So the central organizer is the common shared question. Starting from common values we then organize a travel towards a possible answer, which is shared by all. The highest in hierarchy should be the one who can listen the best. A real Socratic governed organization has a leader who constantly knows to put the best question at any situation. Crafting the question is a discipline that can fortify communication processes. In general the Socratic method as a process catalyst, has a communicative power in making communities (comunicare). Even within old contexts the Socratic dialog creates an open innovative space where brains can connect and the hidden intelligence of all participants can be brought to light!

On the content side the Socratic method works as an icebreaker: it can open very fixed lines of thoughts. Breaking the ice is not only a rational process, the space you reach is also a emotional ad a psychological space; crucial for creative thinking

To come to a really strong fundamental reflection on any thing; about energy, about security, about biking, about wine drinking, about moving or even about going to the lo, you have to rethink the simple concept in all its presumptions and assumptions. The detective work of examining the real impact of these concepts can lead to real innovations.

Every side step or idea or hesitation of some of the participants can lead to a new insight. To neutralize classical scientific barriers or classical abstract languages hurdles, the chair has to be a practical philosopher who is capable to oversee the whole language game of science and the connection with simple clear formulations. So you need trained academic philosophers prepared to the job. The automatic selection of sophisticated concepts or so endogen concepts can block a complete opening to new horizons. You can see this by realizing that our horizons are created by common sense concepts, we repeatedly use. So to create new horizons (which are new paradigms) we have to make new basic concepts.

These two ways (creating another context, using philosophical critical tools) make Socratic innovation a rich but complex tool for strong innovation. It transforms the company for one day in a collaborative think tank and the method is able to produce practical intelligence that is created by all in a hyper collaborative effort!

Socratic innovation can deliver "deep dives" at any depth! In Socratic innovation we go radically to the roots of our activities, our concepts and our fixed assumptions. The classical Socratic approach has four characteristics:

• Knowledge can be pursued, and can lead to an understanding of what is true
• The search for true knowledge is a co-operative enterprise
• Questioning is the primary form of education, drawing out true knowledge from within rather than imposing knowledge from outside.
• Knowledge must be pursued with a ruthless intellectual honesty. ((from Creative and Critical Thinking Vol 4.1, Robert Fisher, Brunel University, England)

You can see very clearly that these classical approaches are very relevant in our actual social driven society. With Socratic innovation you will go to the deep truth about your real capacity (also you will become very honest with your self), together with all your workers you will make an intelligent effort to develop practical knowledge that will help create new horizons. Finally it will be a value driven approach were the knowledge about the real scope of the experience is central. Furthermore there is no selling of a product: in dialog with your stakeholders AND clients you develop the new experiences. This is perfectly fitted to the world of social media in which collaboration, consumer intelligence, co-creation, shared intelligence and value sharing is crucial.

'Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It's a set of technologies, tools and platforms facilitating the discovery, participation and sharing of content. It is transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers." (Wikipedia)

It is no longer push we can exercise, you have to listen to your clients, talks with them ad then cooperate with them. You even have to invest into free exchange of information or knowledge that is valuable for your potential clients.

Most important is that you give truthful information, that you understand the needs of the client and that you can react in a personalized way. Furthermore you will engage in a sustainable dialog with your client in which you cannot hide secrets or at least have to be open. Then probably you will be joining hands in making products, services and application.

In the innovation methodology of Humberto Schwab there are different key elements built in one Socratic chain: Value creation. Appreciative inquiry. Socratic dialog and future scenarios.