I’ve been pondering for a while some things about what 2017 could / should be for me and Ethos.  How to articulate some of those thoughts without launching into information overload?

At the end of last year a few of us in Ethos started talking about “Innovation as a Service” (IaaS).  For me, IaaS is just a non-threatening hook to get people engaged in a new type of conversation.

Many, many people I know and observe are desperate to have a new type of conversation given the hyper-fragmentation that they are experiencing in their lives. So I need to explain a significant piece of context first before getting into IaaS. What new conversation?  

I would suggest that a key gap in many people’s lives today has something to do with lack of trust and engagement. I would go further in saying that the core purpose for any individual or organisation has to be linked to trust and engagement. Self-evident? Perhaps; but that’s the gap.  The problem.  

I won’t attempt to go into the history lessons of “why” and “how” we have arrived here. There’s plenty of evidence and many experts better placed than me to animate that part of the discussion. For example, as Steve Denning wrote in his excellent Forbes article recently, we can articulate the problem in terms of short-termism around shareholder value (MSV).  As Peter Drucker said in 1954  “There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer”.

However, beyond an economic story or corporate social responsibility story or having a slightly longer-term, more sustainable story is answering the question “why IBM?” or “why the UK?”. Purpose. Something in the narrative has to centrally come down to “adding value to people” in some way. More than in a superficial way like “do no evil”.  Even Mark Carney (UK BoE Governor) has made his view clear that money is a “means” not and “end”. Money is a “how” not a “why”. It has no purpose in of itself.

Our current societal “operating system” (I’m a geek!) is largely dominated by self-interest and individualism. It needs to in some way be complemented (not replaced!) with a narrative of collaboration, moderation and trust. Our unsolved complex problems are just getting tougher.  Getting worse. A new narrative is needed.  Jeremy Rifkin, for example, talks of a “collaborative commons” which is a great improvement on what we have now IMHO.

Innovation as a Service is no more than a hook for that new conversation.

So what we must attempt to do is provide a service to individuals and organisations to help them collaborate by building ecosystems (joining different pillars of society, between competitors, silos and so on) that help solve complex problems expressed in terms of improvement to lives in some way.  Why ecosystems?  Because individualistically or in silos (however big and powerful) we are doing such a terrible job at solving the really tough complex problems.  We need to view the people problem from the other end of the telescope!

That’s innovative as I don’t see much trustworthy engagement in any place these days. By definition, I’m looking for something different than re-spraying the old models. Lipstick on the pig. LOL.

Individuals are often expressed as “customers”, “employees” or “citizens”. These are convenient labels for industrialists but can be unhelpful.  The reality is I’m “Robert Pye”. I have to make sense of me. The whole person!  I want to see the benefits to me such as my health and wellbeing (mental health as well as physical), how I’m engaged in my work and my “future of work”. How I live, commute, travel and use technology (smart cities IoT). I am not a commodity. My labour heavily resists commodification. How many of you enjoy getting up and performing the exact same thing over and over and over?  Or perhaps more pertinently, if you can define a task to that degree of repetitiveness then a robot/computer should be doing it not a human.  A helpful re-definition (for me at least) of the term Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “problems machines can solve without humans” . AI is increasing in scope dialy.    Our human life becomes more and more about dealing with on the one had with machine failure and on the other hand about re-imagination. Human scope becomes everything machines can’t do. The scope of this work is also increasing. Because there are more and more things for us to fix and to-reimagine.  Like where the automated, repetitive processes don’t work.  Or where exception handling fails.  Or we have societal, social problems like we are discussing now.  For the time being, this re-imagination, the new grand-narrative is something we need more time on. More collective conversations and wisdom.

We don’t exactly know how to do this yet either!  I’ve been working the domain for almost 20 years and co-founded Ethos as a full time obsession for me and now about 140 people to varying degrees have got the bug too!  We’ve had some spectacular successes and plenty of failures.  Our own  “Ethos” is one of inclusive experimentation and innovation. Across silos to bring greater focus to improving lives. Probably the biggest success so far is an ecosystem we call “Team Army” which helps UK servicemen and women through sport.  It has become a national brand for Army Sport and does many great things to enable our servicemen to participate in all types of sport. Created on the basis that a few of us “understood” the need to collaborate on this.  Just like the Team GB brand does for UK sport.  It of course helps disabled servicemen as well as those whose regular “day-job” is the Forces in the UK.

Going back to the start seven years ago, we had to help the UK Gov and 50 charities collaborate with 50 businesses (many of which are global like Boeing) to work symbiotically to achieve the end vision. There are complex economic and soft value-exchanges involved.  Ecosystems are always “work in progress”. It’s never a “done” job. They evolve.  Businesses have to be persuaded of the enlightened self-interest and shareholder value that can be achieved through collaboration for ROI and other interests. Similarly, for charities and the Ministry of Defence in the UK.

So what?  I’m a very practical person. I like to create and deliver programmes.  

Many of these programmes lead to new innovations, businesses and ventures.  In my travels, there are many of us in different countries, working in different companies and contexts.  But we are trying to push in the same direction.  However, we are siloed to more or less extent.  The irony is amusing.  The existing systems take care of that!  

The enabling question for me is: “how do we harness the collective talents that exist globally to reduce the time to value and enhance the impact and wellbeing on those we wish to serve?”. If we could do this then we have something really valuable to offer our kids and grandchildren as a legacy. It’s a capability that I just don’t see right now.

I’d like to make 2017 a year where we conceive and create programmes that demonstrate the potential of collaboration and problem solving at scale. To harness organisations, capital, technology and experts into programmes that we can confidently conceive, deliver and measure in terms of positive impact to people’s work, living and wellbeing.  Perhaps healthcare transformation (start with a small ambition!!).  The elephant in the room (or one of them) will be funding.  How can we seed something that is collaborative in nature and tied to a valuable-outcome rather than one organisation or self-interest?  I have some thoughts in this area. There is some evidence of powerful and innovate approaches in the market as well such as the DAO’s $160m crowdfunding on a new fund.  But I think the opportunity to move from cross-silo talking to cross-silo delivery is huge in 2017. We have some experience in turning conversations amongst passionate and purposeful people into programmes that deliver impact.  Much of the challenge is how to simplify and de-risk the stepping off points in people’s minds.  Some call this gap between existing assets/capabilities and market need as “productization”.  They are probably right!  But we need a product that is in the “commons” in some way. It needs to be collaborative not extractive.  There’s a lot of opportunity in my mind.

What do you think?