Organic Innovation, The Best Way Forward
Organic Innovation is NOT about innovation within agricultural industries although they are not excluded. I am suggesting that Organic Innovation closely follows principles that are derived from agroecology.
At the very centre of this is Diversity. Diversity is important in all aspects of Systems Thinking. In agriculture we mix crops together, employ rotational grazing etc to improve the environment, making it more productive and prevent resources from being exhausted.
Diversified agricultural businesses are more resilient to economic shocks, ensuring survival.
Businesses employing Organic Innovation in the manner that I describe here are employing diverse people with wide-ranging areas of expertise and ways of working. Not only will the workforce be able to withstand economic shocks but if properly managed it will provide new and exciting solutions, giving it competitive advantage.
Co-creation is a bit of a buzzword right now but we will collaborate on a deep and very grand scale. We will be working not just across companies but across the world. There will be globalisation but in a very different way and Design Thinking will be at the heart of everything.
No longer will we consume what large companies make for us, we will demand that large companies make the things that we want and deliver the services that we need. We will also help in creating these.
Synergy will also be key. Anything we do will have to have multiple benefits, not just generate cash for shareholders. Companies will need to have multiple strings to their bow, not just do one thing.
Efficiency is also key although lean Thinking will take a back seat. If organisations are to be able to change within a somewhat ambiguous world then there must be a small amount of excess capacity or else, they will be reliant on external change agents and not be masters of their own destiny.
Just as an ecological business will try to eliminate waste, Organic Innovation will try to ensure that ideas, knowledge, and skills are used efficiently. Where unexpected benefits, products or services are generated then these will be explored, possibly spinning off other organic businesses.
Resilience will be critical in the future so the emphasis will be on using local resources (buildings, talent) and not ‘forcing’ production by importing from elsewhere. Just as farmers collaborate with the sharing of equipment, swapping goods, and attending markets, so businesses will come together. This can happen either through the use of technology such as the internet or by co-locating complementary businesses together (going one step further than the somewhat tired science park concept).
The workforce of the future will depend heavily on human and social values since we are talking about the value that is created as a result of social interactions. The alignment of values will be key both within the workforce and with our customers. There must also be a reflection of what is happening within society as a whole.
Consider a company in the current climate (COVID-19) which soldiers on relentlessly with little concern for the wellbeing of staff or customers. Many companies right now are considering others, but only because they have no choice to do so. Businesses that respond positively are thriving.
Within Organic Innovation, surprisingly we find that tradition has a part to play. Most innovative businesses are relatively new but there does need to be a hint of the past whether it is company history or local culture. This tends to help with a sense of belonging but with room to grow an organisational culture. Start with nothing and you have a very sterile (i.e. both stark and infertile) environment.
Governance will also have a large part to play. Stakeholders will be ethically aware and employees might be keen to have a stake in the business that they work within. It may also be the case that a number of individuals with in-demand skills might have portfolio careers (what we might consider to be zero-hours contracts) and so relationships with these key workers must be maintained.
The parallels between Innovation and Agroecology are strong. Diversity, co-creation, synergy, efficiency, re-purposing, resilience, values, culture, and governance all have key parts to play if we want to be both useful and have staying power in the future.