Bottom-up innovation is the new normal

Any business model that hasn’t been disrupted by the internet yet will be. Why? Where before corporations “told” us what we need to use without our opinion, the internet has empowered us to create and become platforms. In essence, the internet has unleashed the democratization of ideas; bottom-up innovation.

Of course, none of this is a surprise if you’re a millennial, the leader of the future, those who embrace the “internet mindset”, one that is agile, open and collaborative. It’s a mindset many legacy companies have yet to fully comprehend; let alone adopt and exploit.

And it doesn’t get more poignant than when the government is involved. Such as when a few years ago an earthquake struck Japan and caused an explosion in a nuclear reactor. Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, uses that story to make the point that the internet changes the game in how we solve problems:

Mr. Ito touches of three principles on how the internet has changed the way we innovate:

  1. ‘Pull over Push’ – is an important principle. Don’t hold resources (help or expert advice), just seek them out when you need them.
  2. ‘Learning over Education’ – learning is teaching yourself, using the internet / Wikipedia to learn as you go. Education is about someone else teaching you, and tends to be statically absorbing everything you might need to know. Nowadays we don’t need to memorize encyclopedias, what is more important is knowing how to find what you need.
  3. ‘compass over maps’ – You can’t plan and map out everything in your plan. But if you know where you’re going, you can keep moving towards it.

So nowadays to innovate you don’t need to plan everything but you need to stay connected, always learning, and always present. You can’t be a futurist, you need to be a now-ist.

In essence, Mr. Ito is advocating for emergent innovation, one where we “intuitively connect the dots“, where we ask more questions instead of believing we already know the answers. For as a challenge grows more complex the need for questions and experimentation increases, that means focusing on testing hypotheses in the present to be less wrong over time.

It is this last point that large corporations don’t embrace because their existing business is invested in the now; not in the future. Their expertise is focused on “known” methods for producing products and services that lead to predictable outcomes; it’s all about optimization. Thinking and investing in the future, on the other hand, is full of uncertainty and requires more questions than answers, and taking action to figure out answers to those questions as fast as possible.

Upstarts overcome this challenge by collaborating with people who are interested in a specific challenge; connect new dots to create or discover new knowledge. With that said, I leave you with this great insight:

Another way to put it is that the future of innovation will come from groups of unknown people forming teams to solve tough challenges; all through the internet.

Bottom line: As we think about creating the future, knowing is obsolete because as networks harness the wisdom of crowds, the ability of experts to add value in their predictions is steadily declining. Today and in the future, bottom-up innovation is the new normal.