The future of Innovation

Innovation is the new black. But how will we innovate in the future? If we look a little further ahead there are five innovation trends that are hot right now. What implications do they have for your organisation?

What's on?

Innovation is the new black. It will soon be hard to find a company that lacks the word ”innovation” in its strategy documents. This could either be a sign that the word is getting so washed out as to lose its meaning, or a confirmation that innovation has finally reached its rightful place at the top of business priorities. If the second, we may finally have become aware that innovation is needed in all organi-sations and that everyone is needed in the process.

But how will we innovate in the future? If we look a little further ahead there are five innovation trends that are hot right now. What implications do they have for your organisation?

What's next?

1. Creative machines are everywhere

Creativity has long been viewed as a uniquely human attribute, the essential spark separating man from machine. Still, we see more and more attempts to build machines that can pass ‘the Lovelace test’, meaning machines whose output the machine’s creator cannot explain. We already have a few systems in the arts that pass the test, such as the bot Emily Howell. Herself a creation of composer David Cope, Howell composes convincing pastiches of several classical music styles. The artist-program Aaron also paints paintings capable of surprising its creator.

Will future machines’ creativity stretch beyond the arts to create innovations? Likely yes. Creativity often comes from cross-pollination of ideas from different disciplines; what if a computer could try out all possible transdisciplinary combinations over night and suggest the best business model innovations for you when you get to work in the morning?

2. Biomimicry, artificial intelligence and simulation capacity stretches the idea of what is possible

Even though all machines won’t pass the Lovelace test, they can still help us develop advanced solutions. We currently see exciting technology emerging from a combination of computing power, artificial intelligence and inspiration from nature. One such example is the new Airbus cabin walls. When designing the walls engineers used a combination of genetic programming and generative design based on the growth behaviour of a certain type of slime mold and thereby reduced the weight of the wall by almost half.

3. Big Data as a source of insights

Gaining insights about customers, such as their problems, their needs and what they are interested in buying is an essential part of innovation. The way to get to such insight has long been customer analysis and user studies but in the future we will likely complement such qualitative studies, or “small data studies”, with “big data” analysis. One such example is a recent study where Kairos Future identified trends in Chinese travel behaviour and travel related complaints by netnographic analysis of no less than 70 million blog posts about travelling. Based on those insights, five distinct types of Chinese tourists came to serve as a stable basis in the European travel industry’s renewal of marketing and travel offerings aimed at the Chinese market.

4. The marketspace generation enters the job market

Young people who learned programming in second grade, 3D modelling in fourth grade and 3D-printed their first product in sixth grade are about to enter the job market. Rapidly developing new products will be as natural to them as it is for us to cook a new dish in the kitchen. Combine this with powerful home computers, cheap 3D modelling software and advanced Makerspaces popping up here and there, and you see that the barriers to entry for new players in industries with relatively simple products is reduced to practically nothing. The question is how you use the democratisation of product development and work with these new players rather than competing against them.

5. Fast moving trumps being robust

Strategy and the way organisations act on the market must be characterised by two things; robustness (being able to manage unstable times), and agility (to understand when it’s time to adjust). The main challenge lies in combining the two, as robustness tends to lead to rigidity and slow death. Therefore it is far from sure that the largest and most established players in the business will survive in the long run, they may very well be outcompeted by fast and nimble companies with an ear to the ground who understand the demands of the world and rapidly adapts to the new reality.

What might be

If we look far ahead we can discern another three trends that may change the innovation landscape radically.

Mars travel propels technology innovation

Loads of new communications- and materials technology will emerge in the wake of a possible colonisation of Mars. These coming innovations can also help keep our own planet green longer and they might not be as far away as they seem. Elon Musk and others in the business are aiming at mid-to-late 2020’s.

Global digital co-creation

Innovation projects transcending countries, time zones and languages become a natural part of our everyday work life with the aid of virtual reality and holograms. Babelfish-like implants or hearing aids (of which simpler versions already exist) will translate languages in real time so that we understand each other regardless of mother tongue.

Technology singularity creates an explosion of new intelligence

When smart computers can teach themselves and improve in extremely rapid cycles we will see the dawn of a new type of intelligence. If we, as humans, can learn how to collaborate with these super intelligent new “beings” truly exciting new innovations become possible. If you ask a visionary like Google’s Ray Kurzweil we may see the “technology singularity” become a reality as early as 2029.


This article is written by Katarina Stetler and is based on the report produced for the members of the network Kairos Future Club, read more about membership here.