This is Tim Draimin's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?
2012 is a significant milestone. For example, it marks half a century since Rachel Carson’s watershed book —- Silent Spring — launched a global ecology movement by warning humankind about modern industry’s environmental impact.
2012 also marks the planet’s first full year supporting 7 billion-plus inhabitants.
Our biosphere and our species depend on each other to thrive. How do we ensure our planet boasts a resilient ecology and resilient societies?
The most striking thing for me about our world today is the lack of alignment between our wealth, abundance and cascading knowledge and the utilization of these resources to overcome the complex challenges we face.
This gap generates a jarring cognitive dissonance.
How does alignment come about? Two practical starting points are:
One — Accelerating our institutions’ focus on big challenges. This includes a smarter application of their assets to strengthen their impact and viability, and
Two — Creating a new problem-solving infrastructure where sectors and organizations work collaboratively to solve big challenges. These cross-sector platforms use thoughtfully designed outcomes – oriented processes to take advantage of everyone’s strengths.
Aligning Institutional resources with priority challenges
Will 2012 mark the start of a big wave of alignment? Early signs of alignment are out there.
A corporate example is the leadership of DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman.
In 2009 she took the helm of the Fortune 500 company (#84) and discovered that DuPont’s research agenda didn’t correspond to the major challenges facing the world. Kullman shifted corporate research strategy towards the problem areas of agriculture, nutrition, health, biotechnology and renewable energy. She says that “DuPont is uniquely positioned to collaborate with customers, business partners, governments and public-private partnerships to tackle big global challenges that offer the opportunity for significant top-line growth and value creation.”
A government example is the 2008 commitment of the Canadian government to create the Development Innovation Fund to “support the best minds in the world as they search for breakthroughs in global health and other areas that have the potential to bring about enduring changes in the lives of the millions of people in poor countries.” As a result, $225 million is being invested over 5 years in a new type of global innovation lab, Grand Challenges Canada (GCC). GCC is an “independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation both in Canada and in the developing world.”
A tri-sector example of this is the BC Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship. The Council, composed of representatives from business, community and government, works from the premise that today’s problems eclipse the capacity of any one organization or sector to solve. “We are convinced that status quo responses to complex social issues are neither sustainable nor responsible. We believe that transformative change is necessary, but also recognize that there are no simple solutions. We are not experts, however, we have been exploring the nature of the challenges we face and the possibilities for addressing them together.”
Creating social innovation infrastructure to solve tough problems
The world is fortunate to have a small but emerging network of pioneering laboratories tackling wicked challenges. These labs or design studies are heterogeneous in nature and experimental in function. But they will form a creative wellspring of scalable innovations. Some of the more prominent ones include MindLab in Denmark, Helsinki Design Lab, InWithFor at TACSI in Australia, D-Lab at Stanford University, MIT’s AgeLab.
Canada will soon boast multiple labs. The BC Advisory Council is exploring the model for their province. Ontario’s cluster convergence hub, MaRS Discovery District, has just announced their new MaRS Solutions Lab, a new experimental place-based home for tackling Ontario’s big challenges. It is basing its start-up design and methodologies, including being a nexus for cross-sectoral collaboration, on insights gleaned from the global Lab movement as set out in their MaRS white paper.
With concerted effort, 2012 will mark the start of a discernible wave of change towards solutions alignment.
Note: I release individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012? on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Lindsay Cant, Richard Bridge, Stefan Lorimer and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.