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Time to reinvent the nature of innovation


As humans, we created and achieved incredible things. We conquered every piece of land and mobilized every bit of resource for human expansion. We overcame the harshest conditions, from mining the deep sea to flying into space, but our progress came with serious side effects such as resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and pandemics —to name but a few. That is because most of our innovations start from a degenerative value logic.

Picture by David Mark on Unsplash


To make stuff, we extract resources from nature, use massive amounts of energy to heat, beat and treat those resources into materials, which we use to make products that, pretty soon, end up as waste. Innovation-as-usual therefore extracts value from nature and generates waste. It is a degenerative value system. Not only are our manufacturing processes highly inefficient —the circularity gap report estimates that our entire industrial system operates at less than 10% efficiency— they also severely degrade our life-support-system. So much that we are now facing collapse of entire ecosystems and complete meltdown of the climate conditions that allowed humans to evolve and flourish in the first place. 


When did innovation become the synonym for degradation?


Nature has been dealing with dynamic change for 3.8 billion years and is constantly perfecting approaches for survival & resilience. That is because nature’s blueprint for innovation is regeneration, a biological process of renewal that leads to a higher order of health, wealth, vitality and viability. The opposite of what we do now. It is about adding more value than we extract. Mushrooms make it rain, plankton make clouds, arctic foxes green the tundra and whales cool the climate. In nature, regenerative value creation is the key to evolutionary success. Like Jay Harman, pioneer in bio-inspired innovation and CEO of Pax Scientific says: “If you are not sustainable, you are terminal”. In other words, innovation-as-usual is lethal. It is anti-life because it diminishes health, wealth, vitality and viability.


Picture by Raf Gorissen


Once you understand how life works, you will see that sustainability is the byproduct of regenerative value creation. Leaving it better than you found it. 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. If we can learn to align with the way life works, we can create conditions that are conducive to life. Let’s bring NI, not AI, to the forefront of business innovation.

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