What is Innovation – rethinking Accelerators in a era of social changes

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14 giugno, 2013

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If you’ve been looking for Innovation’s projects on the web, before you figure out that is not just net economy, you’ve been probably intrigued by those fashionable and “sexy” words like Big Data, Digital economy, Accelerators, Startups and so on. Leaving aside how dangerous the misuse of word like “sexy” is in understanding the real value of innovation practices, the problem of defining what Innovation really means still remains.

It is said that nowadays more room is needed in order to step up social participation to the growth of new models of sustainable and creative economy. So the famous “power to the people” has been slowly replaced by the new “power to the (young) people“. Indeed, the common sense suggest the critical value of the rising generation to the renewal of business, as also for a wide social change toward effective open governance. In this context, new agents capable of enabling those changes have seen how their media impact increased through the years. Because of that, a new communication channel with the civil society is been strengthened. The accelerators, as one of those agents, are becoming a new model of business creation, of which technology and team building represent its common core. Nonetheless, the rise of the younger should not be seen as the only aspect of the meaning of innovation.

Last week I was at The Hube (Rome), discussing about active citizenship and open government with some public officers from Public Administration Forum and groups of citizen. I’ve seen a lot of fascinating projects, but I’ve been captured by Vittorio Smiroldo, born 1937, who was explaining how he was trying to improve quality of life in Senior Centers, by convincing public administration in funding community activities. The attention on young generation should not let us blind about what Vittorio and a stratuppers have in common. They surely not have in common technology, since Vittorio’s project does not focus on digital business. It is of course clear that in a World when a simple invention made by plastic bottle filled with water bring free electric light to one million of people, we might admit that technology is not even one of the most important enabling factors.

So what? since Innovation is never a matter of a priori, how the accelerators could really be able to develop a innovation-driven evolution through the digital market? Of course, creating new market. And this is the case in which easier done than said. Indeed, it is always hard to begin with question like “what is innovation”. Properly, because if we get rid with the concept of technology and young-age, nothing else should prevent us to think that innovation is made by multiples practices that concentrate on combining existing elements of reality, with the aim of providing creative solution to improve people life. Of course ‚”the best way to understand an activity is often through doing it rather than theorizing about it” wisely say Stephen Mumford. But we should admit that talking about innovation is always followed by a preconception of what innovation should be.

And that’s the point. If we want to evolve through the creation of new innovative market, why we should continue to assume that its evolution is only driven by natural selection process? If we want to invest metaphors with some heuristc meaning usefull to us in pursuing an objective, we should be very careful to assume the right one. So for example, positive evidences has been provided in favor of genomic mechanisms of environmental adaptation as responsible for the evolution of an organism. This of course does not exclude the former hypothesis in the relevant sense, but could be of help to concentrate on the metaphorical meaning: a selection-drive idea of market’s evolution should be replaced by an ecological one, in which the organism’s fitness is intended to be greater if their competitive symbiosis with other organism at different level of evolution turns out to be successful. And that’s the case in which the presence on the market of Socrata, one of the most famous platform for public data in the USA, does not prevent (but rather encourage) brilliant startup like Enigma.io to promote his parallel project on public data curation, exploiting big data technology for deep analysis and an easier interoperability of information.

Once we get rid of past preconceptions about the market in which innovation could be nourished, we can do whatever we think is possible.

Accelerators could be able to develop a innovation-driven evolution through the digital market only if they recognize that their role in this market is to canalize people’s power to continuously shift the line between what is feasible and what is still not. Innovation, in this context, is the self-experience of one’s creativity. After a long chat with Francesco Simoneschi, founder at //staq, one of the real deal for Game Economy and Big Data, I’m more and more convinced that the Accelerators should extract and organize different type of knowledge and competence to build this new market. This can be achieved by stimulating the creation of a solid network between small and medium enterprises, which cover multilateral domain of innovation’s researches. Just like the one setted up with civil society during these years. The aim is to encourage and communicate with key people in different areas of competence that can “give back” what they learnt through working experience in different frontier fields of social and technological innovation. And this is even clearer if we consider that a lot of PMI fulfill the requirements to apply to accelerator programs, since they’re often composed by few young people at work. The value of pursuing a vision and building a team must be supported by an idea of “where to look” and “how to reach”. Supporting a culture of innovation could be the chance for an accelerator to improve startup adaptability to effectively monetize their project, engage people needs and improve their power to structure social world; thus, re-opening a way to think again about markets as social places, in which shared knowledge, competence and open participation are the key to success. Will you join us?

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