Ever heard people say "that can't be done", "it's impossible", "we don't know what to do or how to do it"? My job is to solve such issues.
In essence: I like challenges.
It often happens that I get those calls from board members, CEO’s, startup-entrepreneurs, system architects, designers and other people starting with “Hi, I spoke to a friend of mine about these needs of ours and those challenges we face – my friend said: ‘Ask Rickard’”. For me that is always a strange experience - in a positive way – every time. I still feel much like that musician I once was - a bass player. I was pretty good at it too. Close to 30 years of entrepreneurship, innovation, pioneering, development and countless projects will probably never change that. Inside I still consider myself to be in my twenties - however with a lot of aggregated experience and a few extra pounds.
I have established a definition of true innovation – the seven pillars of innovation - and also defined a process for realizing other’s potential innovative ideas - The Formula 1 Lab. The key take here is that innovation is handled within the business plan on a tactical operational level - in accordance with a structured process. Creativity must be managed outside of the business plan and be provided an area of free movement away from the limitations that rigid organizations hold for a good reason.
When I have come up with solutions, suggestions or ideas it is not uncommon that people in the projects or companies I work for say “That is impossible”, “That is not our core business”, “That can’t be done”, “That will be too complex”, “That will be far too expensive”, “What’s the business model?”. I am used to that. I am also used to drive innovation at management level, change attitudes amongst the participants, push the projects forward and make the projects deliver. At the finish line it is obvious that it was indeed possible, it did indeed fit the core business very well, it could be done, it could be solved in a non-complex way, it could be solved in a cost-efficient way and that there certainly are plenty of working business models surrounding the result.
People often find it hard to distinguish between innovation and creativity. My personal, general definition is simple.
Creativity is a common trait - an intellectual tool such as curiosity or fantasy.
Innovation is the ability to recognize, achieve and implement change by using these intellectual tools.
Some people are very good at both creativity and innovation. They often make notable footprints in history – Leonardo DaVinci, Galileo Galilei, Ada Lovelace, Joseph-Marie Jacquard and Nicola Tesla to mention a few.
Innovation has always come natural to me. When I started as an entrepreneur back in the 1980’ies I didn’t know anything about innovation processes, definitions, structures a.s.o. Somehow I - by instinct – started to work in certain ways and to approach things in a certain manner. As time went by I learned, I understood and I started to structure my knowledge and experiences.
My definition of a true innovation is defined according to the following 7 parameters:
1. An innovation is measurable.
2. An innovation is sustainable.
3. An innovation creates value.
4. An innovation solves a problem (or a number of problems).
5. An innovation creates a new need/want/desire.
6. An innovation alters behaviour.
7. An innovation means significant change.
An example: The match. Think about it, how did we manage without it? Later on - did we really need the disposable lighter? Of course we did. And we still do.
Naturally, the Internet is also truly an innovation.
Many innovations are based on old ideas and technology. The telephone is a good example and one of the most important fields of development today.
5G systems will be launched soon. This will consequently drive the software industry and our on-line behaviour accordingly. Also, the 3D-printer is showing real potential - the largest ones may soon even be able to “print” houses and structures on site. Amazing stuff.
Eventually I discovered computers and was fortunate to be a part of the quickly emerging IT-industry in the mid-1990’s. It was a crazy era in many aspects. After less than a year I was regarded as a veteran and a pioneer. It’s difficult for those having grown up with the Internet as a given to understand the era - we had to learn and co-create from the beginning.
Back then, anything was possible. That has not changed. We just have better technology and high insights into what works - not just from a technical point of view, but also from a human perspective.
When working in IT-projects in the 1990’s I soon understood that when most people talked about “going digital” they meant “doing the same thing and do it the same way as before but do it using IT”.
Every big shift in technology means that there are new opportunities and new challenges. That also means the need of new processes. New processes need new tools. The processes surrounding travelling by horse and carriage are not the same as the processes surrounding travelling by airplane. The tools needed for handling those processes are not the same either. Might seem very obvious but early on in technology shifts it is not. The Internet is no exception.
So, I realised the need for developing new processes to solve analogue problems. The result was that the need for new software applications and IT-based services emerged.
In 1994, I founded Scarptor Consulting. I teamed up with some very competent people. Some of us still work together and enjoy it. We produced the first-ever websites for a number of Swedish and Nordic listed companies. Obviously they were rudimentary compared to today’s standards. A milestone was when Scarptor was listed as one of the most successful IT-companies in Sweden by the weekly business magazine Veckans Affärer.
We developed the first on-line, streaming-based “radio” system for administering and providing audio content, sales opportunities, advertising etc. Eventually we became involved in complex system architecture. We specialised in adaptive back-end solutions that enabled new functionality on-line.
Later on, we developed the first web-based smartcard payment solution for VISA International. I’m proud to have been a part of this - the current shift in consumer behaviour on the Internet is still accelerating following new technical methods for on-line transactions.
Today, true mobility coupled with a non-stop connection to the Internet is just as natural for all “born digital” as the air we breathe. The term “internet of things” is fascinating and already a reality - albeit we’re a couple of hundred billion devices short of the projected 50 billion objects that will eventually be interconnected by the year 2020 (according to Cisco). The mind boggles,
And this will be our reality sooner than you think.
In a way, we’re at the same adventurous point in time as we were just 20 years ago when the Internet changed our lives forever.
We have the ideas, insights and the technology to achieve innovations just short of Star Trek gadgets. Just imagine, in a couple of years our body and mind will be connected to our home, car and personal network. We “just” have to figure out how to avoid the creation of an untold new level of information overload. This is where innovation sets us apart and will lead us forward.
Most bright ideas are born where you least expect them to, up until the moment they can be patented and/or launched they must be handled with great care.
For a great idea to become an innovation, the transition for the organization with the means to commercialise the product/service often is a tricky process.
20 years ago, when the Internet was new and not even industry pioneers understood the potential, I learned one thing. Technology changes rapidly, people don’t. But – as all born today are true digital natives (remember the expression?) an obvious result is a shortened learning curve. As people learn faster, mankind will also evolve faster. Science fiction just became near-future.
Of course not. But we know that every action triggers a reaction. The word “revolution” has three main definitions according to the Merriam Webster on-line dictionary. The first is political and not relevant in this context, the next two in conjunction are exactly what we’re dealing with:
Trends have always come and gone, with shifting regularity. The term “time is money” couldn’t be more current (no pun intended) – time has become a commodity and for many even a luxury.
We need time to think, to talk, to invest in our relationships and in order to be healthy. All innovations that will do this for the general public will be successful, given that they are attainable and do not infringe on one’s privacy and integrity.
I recently read about the latest in urban trends, “the analogue romance”. I’m not surprised; it’s a sound reaction to the intense “digital romance” we’ve experienced during the last decade or two. I also occasionally like to take to the woods for mushroom-picking, fishing or just the sensation of peace and quite. The phone will be turned off but accessible should I get into trouble.
The contrasts between what was - what is - and what is still to become is stretching beyond the horizon. So are our abilities to create, innovate and ultimately change the world.
I look forward to the future!
Copyright © Rickard Sohlberg 2013-2023