In the new e-book ESSECKnowledge “Building a Better World Together”, Xavier Pavier, philosopher and Professor at ESSEC Business School, is explaining in his article how in a world that is characterized by rapid changes and thus uncertainty we should strive for finding a responsible way to innovate. As companies and business entities are competing with each other under pressure to gain profit, contemplating the long-term societal impacts of the innovations that companies introduce to the market seems a luxury – yet, at the same time, it is more necessary than ever.

Did you know that?

“The word “innovation” comes from the latin innovationem, noun of action from innovare, in – novare: “in” for inside, “novare” for change. It is important to know that innovation was initially seen as the process that renews something that exists (or not) and is commonly assumed as the introduction of something new.”

In disruptive innovation, stakes are high, as long-term changes are accompanied by potentially serious risks to local communities and the natural environment. Prof. Pavie explains that rapid, radical, and disruptive changes caused by innovation pose two major challenges that must be addressed:

  1. New markets are created, which means that forecasting the wider societal consequences is challenging
  2. Access to products and services increases, but this can lead to rebound effects – think of the case of previously excluded people overusing their newly-purchased cars to commute!

The common trade-off is the following, in simple terms: unleashing the full economic and technological potential on the one hand while trying to mitigate the new ethical risks of technology on the other. Prof. Pavie goes on by clarifying that so-called “catalyst innovation” – a subset of disruptive innovation focusing on social development – is not necessarily the answer to the problem, since responsible innovation is not synonymous with responsible innovation.

Interestingly enough, in the article, the results of a survey show that decision-makers can anticipate mostly short-term rather than long-term results. Nevertheless, findings suggest that no matter the inability to forecast even the short-term environmental impact, decision-makers choose to innovate.

In reality, CEOs and decision-makers are rewarded based on their creativity and speed in taking effective decisions, under a race-to-the-bottom wolrd, and not on their fairness or responsibility. What they fail to understand, however, is that with quick decisions comes greater risk, and eventually the need to integrate responsibility if they want to mitigate the negative effects of their initial decisions. So, three things have to be questioned when combining responsibility and innovation: (i) mass consumption of innovative products as accelerator of innovation, (ii) the complexity of forecasting, (iii) the new societal challenges that arise through innovation.

Read the full article here

This article was first published on 18/04/2019