Why we need to reinvent the nature of innovation
In nature, those that resist evolution go extinct
The scientists’ warning to society should shake you awake too, because it is not only your livelihood that is at stake. It is the future. Yours, your children’s and your children’s children. Quality of life will be the first to go when our ecosystems stop generating conditions conducive to life. And no money in the world will be able to reinstall the networked communities that keep us alive. Because your body is a community of human and non-human cells too (Sender et al, 2016). And your health is directly linked to the health of the environment you are embedded in (Prescott & Logan, 2017). In other words, your inner and outer nature are connected. As a biologist, there is one thing I know for certain, if we cannot evolve ourselves, our businesses and institutions, we will become fossils, just like the dinosaurs.
Shifting from degenerative to regenerative value creation, inspired by nature
Nature has been dealing with dynamic change for 3.8 billion years and is constantly perfecting approaches for survival & resilience. But nature’s selection environment is extremely tough. It is estimated that over the history of the Earth, 99.9% of all nature’s innovations went extinct (Medina, 2008). Biologists are now uncovering the keys to success of the 0.1% that withstood generations of change and disruption. And the clue is regenerative value creation: creating conditions beneficial to life. The opposite of what we do now. It is about adding more value than we extract. Many organisms, tiny to massive, have figured out how to continuously upgrade their environment and thrive as a result. There is no reason, we cannot do this too (Woolley-Barker, 2017). But it will require us to reinvent the way we innovate and look to nature as a mentor, model and measure (Biomimicry3.8).
Innovation that leads to degradation is fast forwarding humans to the extinction pool because it tips the balance towards the 99.9%. But if we can put our big brains and disruptive technologies to good use, we might flip the odds. Like Peter Hinssen’s reference to Dickens “It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times”, living today is both exciting and terrifying. Even though there is no way of knowing how it will all play out, I prefer to work on the solutions. And I know, nature has the answers to our biggest challenges. Organisms that have been around for millions of years, withstanding aeons of change and disruption, hold the keys to thrive in a VUCA world. They have learnt to deal with change, uncertainty, emergence, disruption and complexity. Because they leverage the power of the network while harnessing their capacity for evolution. And because they add value to their environment, creating more life with life.
Mushrooms make it rain, termites turn deserts into oases, whales regulate the climate. In nature, regenerative value creation is the key to evolutionary success. Like Jay Harman, CEO of Pax Scientific says: “If you are not sustainable, you are terminal”. Once you understand how life works, you will see that sustainability is the byproduct of regenerative value creation (see Mang & Haggard, 2016). So, let’s reinvent the way we innovate. Let’s use nature’s giant library of solutions to upgrade the way we make things and the way we organize ourselves and our value systems. Let’s do well by doing good.