The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast
The State of Innovation in 2020s: Reimagining Social Impact and Sustainable Growth
As part of our Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in a conversation with Jonathan Slater: on ‘The State of Innovation in 2020s: Reimagining Social Impact and Sustainable Growth.’
In the Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we explore the world of how independent thought leaders bring their ideas to scale within the business world and share powerful, thought provoking insights with our listeners.
Our objective from this podcast series remains to educate senior level marketers & thought leaders to help them solve some of the most quizzing marketing questions propping up right now.
Join the conversation to access actionable advice shared in an incredibly insightful way.
Jonathan Slater is a highly experienced #innovation consultant, #keynote speaker and board member, with over 15 years’ experience in the innovation field. With a particular focus on innovation within international development, Jonathan has an in-depth knowledge of both local and #global innovation processes.
Jonathan currently advises and supports several large-scale innovation programmes and works to identify best working practices in the open innovation field. Having researched, designed and delivered over 450 innovation programmes, Jonathan is considered an expert in his field, and has spoken at several conferences, including the European Innovation Conference in Brussels in 2016 and Open Innovation in Manufacturing in 2017.
Jonathan has been leading the use of innovation in new areas, in social innovation and #decentralisation of energy and adaptation. When not involved in innovation programmes, he mentors several SME businesses, both in the UK and East Africa on sustainable and #ethical business development.
- Could you talk us through the ins and outs of social impact investing, harnessing emerging technologies to unleash your business potential.
- What does the future look like for the use of innovation in new areas, particularly in social innovation and decentralization of energy and adaptation.
- What can corporate innovators learn from the world of non-profits.
- With respect to implementing innovation methodology, what are the common challenges faced in an organization and how to take them on, how to get your employees on board with innovation, and how to use impact to measure goals.
- Has there been an increase in executive leadership attention on innovation, when it comes to understanding how innovation can affect the organization.
- How will advanced imaging technology, drones, data modeling, AR, and VR as technologies impact the organization’s work in the future.
- What are the biggest disruptors for innovation.
Full Transcript of Podcast with Jonathan Slater
Andrew Newby: Hello everyone. My name is Andrew Newby and I’ll be hosting a series of I Research Services podcasts over the coming weeks. These are intended to educate senior-level marketers and thought leaders as to how to address some of the more challenging and exciting issues facing them currently. Our topic today is that of the state of innovation in 2020 re-imagining social impact and sustainable growth. With that, I’d like to welcome our guest expert based in London, Jonathan, or Jonty Slater. And what do you prefer to be called?
Jonathan Slater: Everybody seems to default to Jonty, but I’ll respond to anything.
Andrew Newby: Okay, let’s go with Jonathan if that’s your preference. So, Jonathan is a highly experienced innovation consultant, keynote speaker, and board member with over 15 years of experience in international development and humanitarian innovation in emerging markets. Throughout this time, he has researched, designed, and delivered over 450 innovation programs with a focus on social innovation and decentralization of energy and climate adaptation. He currently advises and supports several large-scale global innovation programs and works to identify the best working practices in the open innovation field. Outside the innovation realm, Johnathan mentors several startups, both in the UK and East Africa on sustainable and ethical business development. As part of this work, he has been a critical partner in raising the largest ethical investment bond for a single hydro electrical installation in Europe through Triodos Bank. Have I pronounced that correctly?
Johnathan Slater: Yes, Triodos. Yeah
Andrew Newby: Thank you, Jonathan Slater, Jonathan, welcome. And thank you very much for sharing your insights with our listeners.
Johnathan Slater: Andrew, I’m so happy to be joining you and I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Andrew Newby: Excellent, so am I. So just to start off, could you talk us through the ins and outs of social impact investing, how one goes about harnessing emerging technologies to unleash; business potential within an organization?
Johnathan Slater: Yeah, let’s break down because social impact investing is made up of three key terms in there, the social, the impact, and the investing elements. The social side is very key, from a point of view, it’s very different from ethical investment or it’s looking at communities, it’s looking at how you’re improving the social well-being or the social fabric of a community or an organization. So, it has a very particular focus. It’s looking at how you can really look at the issues around the community aspect of a project or a program in some way, shape, or form. Then we have the impact where we actually have to measure that whatever investment is going to happen can be measured because you can say, Oh, I’ve done something new, but how do you know you’ve made a change? You have to be able to measure that impact.
So that has to be a key aspect of anything that you design, is that you need to actually have a baseline and an inline where you have to be able to measure it in some way. And then the, investing is actually, we’re taking a risk. It’s not where you’re giving them a grant or you’re giving them a loan, which investing actually has a much more detailed risk. Where actually, you can lose your money. It is like investing in the stock market in some way, shape, or form, but you have a very particular focus. So, bringing that all together gives you the social impact investment, but you need to really look at when you do it, why you would do it from an emerging technology point of view, you have to take into account, are you going to be able to calculate a return.
Are you going to be able to show impact, especially with something at a very early stage within technology? Early-stage processes or technologies have a huge amount of risk, nearly 90% of emerging technologies that are coming through from a very early-stage ideation stage or prototype stage never gets markets. And how much do you want to risk or reward in cost of that process, it’s your own risk-reward ratio. And then within organizations, you deal with that internally. So, a number of organizations run social impact investing but within teams. So, the board decides that we are going to different teams within the company pitch different ideas, and then the board invests in it.
And some of these may be very early-stage ideas, or they may be looking at it in different ways than you would normally look at it in terms of a business investment process. You wouldn’t take it. You may not know what’s actually going to be the outcome of this impact investment within your organization. You may be supporting some very early-stage ideas, but, and especially with the social aspect of it, you want to be supporting your staff or your customers or other stakeholders within your organization in ways that you haven’t thought about before. And really that allows you to take slightly more risks within your business, but the reward, if it is successful, can be radically changing within your organization.
You can take that idea and you can scale it much wider, but also, it’s something that’s within the organization that may be an IP or that may be intellectual property or something that’s very specific to, your business that you can then share with other organizations. So, there’s a lot of bad dynamics within that, Andrew, that you could take the impact investment in a different way within your business or going out into the public domain.
Andrew Newby: Right. In terms of the time horizon here I guess one key aspect of social impact investing is that it’s not looking at seeing an instantaneous return on funds invested, especially in let’s call it the Global South and yet innovation. And COVID has merely helped accelerate. This means that you may have to, you know, get an innovation call out in a week. You may have to react very, very quickly to circumstances and situations. So how do you reconcile that tension, if indeed there is one?
Johnathan Slater: I think COVID has changed how people invest or support different programs or within the business or outside programs. Social impact investing is long-term, it’s, you’re looking at years to decades to show the full impact of that investment. You’re not looking at a short-term game. Sometimes you can design the program to show some short-term benefits, but you may not know if they’ve embedded or become sustainable or actually have a life of their own beyond that initial investment that you put in. Are they going to have to go for another round of investment and another round of investment, another round investment to become sustainable, or is that initial investment enough to kick start them into being either sustainable or create cashflow enough that the business can, or the program can succeed? With COVID we’re seeing a slightly different way in that a lot more grants.
People are being a lot more philanthropic in terms of they’re not looking for a return directly. There may be spreading out the funding to have an element of social good. So, they’re willing to donate or supply the money with not expecting a return through either shareholding or a fixed amount of money or a percentage return they’re expecting each month or each year because everything’s happening to move a lot faster. And also, you don’t know if the organization you’re actually investing in actually will survive especially in the different changing, around the world. I was on a call earlier today and in Kenya, there is still a curfew from 9:00 PM. So, at 9:00 PM, everything has to shut down. Everything has to do, if you have done an impact investment program that is allowed a restaurant to be built or something like that, that’s a radical aspect that you wouldn’t have known about even eight months ago, seven months ago, you wouldn’t have thought your business wouldn’t have any diners in the evening.
So how has that changed that business? How has that impacted that business? COVID has shown that there can be a lot faster changes than anybody ever thought about, which in some ways is really good because we’re seeing new ideas come through because of that where people have difficulty, it generates innovation, it generates people to think about things differently. So how do you bring that into supporting it through a social impact investment? You do it through managing the risk, you do it through bringing out new, you have a portfolio of things. So, you may not do such high levels of investment within a single organization. You may spread it, or you may want to have companies work together or organizations work together to manage the risk. You may do more of a partnership kind of thing and you invest in a group of organizations that all have to work together.
And that has been able to allow people to manage their COVID risk. But we have no idea what the next six months will look like. And so, things are changing radically beyond that. And how people are responding to that and how businesses are having to respond both in Global North or you’ve head towards Global South. There are other terminologies like low and middle-income countries, LAMCs. Everybody uses a different thing. And especially depending on where you are in the world in America or Europe people refer to it differently, but I think it’s, everybody’s slightly in the same boat everybody’s trying to respond. I’m trying to maintain their business.
Andrew Newby: So, to be clear, the majority of projects you deal with overseas with an emphasis on Global South, is that correct?
Johnathan Slater: At the moment? Yes. So, I have, I’m very lucky with the consultancy that I run, we actually have a reasonably good split in that we do quite a lot of projects where, responding in the LAMC, the Global South to programs that are being wanted to run by donors or funders and being able to start them up very fast and being able to say, okay, we want to run this program and you’ve got two weeks to get it started. And hopefully, you design it well enough in those two weeks to actually make sure that it’s successful. But we also have a lot of corporate customers in the Global North who want to use a lot of the ideas from this being able to be fast, to be able to manage the risks with the participants so that you do no harm. One of the key aspects within the donor aspect of things is you don’t want to harm the participants.
How can you take that into the Global North, within working within businesses so that the staff, everybody who participates in whatever program you run in terms of innovation, actually get something out of it so that nobody feels like they’ve wasted their time participating in any innovation program that you run? That’s the biggest feedback that we always receive within innovation programs is I didn’t find out about what happened with my idea. I didn’t get any good feedback. Nobody told me what was happening. I felt there wasn’t any ownership within the organization when you do provide feedback and you do provide responses to the participants and they understand what’s happening, they become a lot more engaged with it. And I think that becomes key with any innovation program that you run, be it in Global North or Global South.
Andrew Newby: Yeah, I guess there’s a danger that you can assume that you have to bear in mind that not everyone is going to be a white, educated Christian male that you’re dealing with. So, I guess the sense of what community is, will vary massively from project to project. You mentioned Jonathan, restaurants, as an example, I think it might be helpful for listeners. If you could sort of just pad out a bit what this space looks like precisely. Just in terms of the use of innovation in new areas with reference to social innovation, energy, and adaptation, is it possible just to give an example of a typical community, that’s an example of one you’ve been involved in.
Johnathan Slater: So, a good example is let’s say, let’s talk about recycling. So, supply chains have been disrupted because of COVID around the world, we were reliant on a lot of recycling to be processed in China or certain other countries. Certain countries are now stopping the export of recycling or the importation of e-waste or something like that. So how can you manage recycling or e-waste within your local thing for stuff that you import? Solar Panels, everybody is saying solar is the future, especially in low middle-income countries, but they only have a limited lifespan.
How do you then manage that waste? Do you ship it back to where it was manufactured? China doesn’t want to receive it anymore, or Vietnam doesn’t receive it more because they have enough of their own e-waste. How can you then process that? So can community organizations, can you stimulate community maker groups, local innovators to find a way of being able to process that e-waste in a safe manner, that something can come out of it.
Can you create second life products? Can you reuse the batteries? Can you disassemble the solar panels in a safe way so that they actually, create materials that can be used in other products stimulating that doesn’t take a huge amount of funding to start people up? But this is where impact investment becomes and especially social impact investment is that to get to scale, it takes a large, amount of things. It needs machinery, it needs processes, it needs staff training. So, if you do that kind of process, and we’re seeing this, we’re running a program across East Africa at the moment, looking at how you can manage your e-waste and commit community groups, go out and collect the e-waste.
And can those individuals then get paid for collecting that e-waste or helping to sort the e-waste so that they can support their own communities, but then can they get involved in actually creating these new products out of this waste? That means it can’t have a second life, can it be used as a Solar Lantern? So, you’re taking a large-scale Solar Panel, can you break the batteries down? Can you make them into Solar Lanterns so that people can use, in their smaller communities that are off-grid? How can you have those benefits? Can you support that through an investment process that allows people to understand that the money isn’t being given as a grant, it isn’t being given purely as a donation, but actually they have to return the money at some point, and they may have to pay a certain percentage of return?
As part of that, may have to pay two, five, six, eight percent interest on that investment to return it. So, they have to create a sustainable business that allows them to also grow. So that’s where it can be much more realistic in terms of taking an idea, taking an issue, but taking something very fast, but also creating it sustainable that if China, when, not if when China reopens or the supply chains becomes less disruptive, that these businesses still can exist, but you aren’t creating a short-term benefit only but actually you’re creating sustainability within your model. And that’s when you design the programs and that’s designing these programs becomes really key because you have to think about what-ifs a lot more of the time. The majority of my time is spent, okay. If something like that happens, have I thought about it in a different way?
Have I thought about what could happen to an organization that somebody decides to invest their own personal money, could that affect then how they then send their children to school? Be it, the person who’s investing and if they lose their investment or the people that are actually receiving the funding, but they can’t make the return because other impact things have influenced their business model and they all haven’t been able to pivot. So, can you provide them with some capacity support? Can you help them understand how to manage accountancy? Yeah. Educational level becomes really key at this point because managing everybody’s risk within this whole process becomes the absolute key that the people who’ve invested actually understand that there are risk and people who receive the money understand they’ve got risks,
Andrew Newby: So, there’s an interesting sort of nexus some types of innovation here, you’ve got. The social innovation you’re referring to the development space, learning how to be flexible in working with communities to harness technological innovation. You’ve also got on top of that. I guess organizational innovation, so embedding innovation of whatever sorts at the core of your organization and continually asking, are we being innovative and how can we be innovative with our products or services? So.
Johnathan Slater: And not being just the label. [Inaudible 19:13] Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt that. That innovation isn’t just used as a label saying, I’m an innovative company because we’ve run a single innovation process. Innovation has to be embedded from every single part of your organization because you can’t just be innovative once to keep up that label. And maybe innovation is misused now a lot more than ever before because people want to be seen to be innovative, but we sing it quite regularly within organizations that they run an innovation process and they go, okay, we’ve done it. Not that it has to be embedded that we’re going to run that one-week innovation program. And we’re going to say that that’s going to help us for the next year. It has to be something that you do as an organization every day. You have to allow people to, and every single member of staff within that organization should want to engage with it.
Everybody from the care staff up to the CEO and how do they all get engaged within the innovation process. Now, lots of people run ideation programs within their businesses. They do calls out for new ideas, but is it worth it, do you want the CEO to be submitting ideas, or do you want the cleaner or the junior staff to engage with? What’s the benefit of your business that you want to have to come out of this? Is it just because you want them to come up with ideas, that are going to benefit your business, or are they going to gain something out of this process that actually is going to help them with their career?
Andrew Newby: The janitor might have amazing ideas.
Johnathan Slater: Well Andrew, you don’t know if the janitor may have a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, but they have decided because of stress without stress levels or other associate impacts or something like that, that they’ve decided to become a cleaner at the moment, or they may have moved from another country. And the only job they can get is the current cleaner, but they may have a huge amount of knowledge assumptions about who is in your team. And also, what people’s hobbies are about. I’m always surprised that the hobbies people have that you suddenly go, wow, you really understand that thing. Why do you understand that? Well, because I’ve got a hobby and I’m raising four kids and that’s allowed me to understand Biochemistry. And it allows me to think up something new. Assumptions about who can participate are quite key, but also who’s going to engage with it.
If you, as a white middle-class male designed something, you are going to make certain biases and assumptions within any program you develop, you need to have it where you bring in other people, other stakeholders to engage with it because especially if you want to engage everybody and everybody now under COVID is all working from home. Or they are only in the office a couple of days a week. How do you still allow them to have engagements within their teams to allow them to understand, share ideas, share knowledge, and also different people will be able to share. Sharing an idea across a community may be really interesting for a young person, but actually, somebody who has not got a lot of time is doing 60-hour weeks because they’re having to work from home and raise their kids and do everything else. Do they have the same amount of time to invest in an innovation process that you do unless they’re going to get something out of it, what’s of interest to them?
We’re seeing businesses saying, Oh, you’re going to receive a bonus of five hundred dollars, five hundred pounds, a thousand pounds, something like that. But actually, that may not be what drives other parts within your staffing community certain women or certain people who are older or may, be financially stable, may not be driven by a cash reward as much as maybe having a one-hour call with the CEO or a team lead or something like that. They wouldn’t already get access to it. What those benefits can be, need to really evolve. And it can’t be just purely about recognition. Oh, we’re going to clap for Bob, who’s come up with this clever idea or something like that, actually, Bob may want to have had something else out of it. He may want to move teams. He may want to be part of the team that takes that idea forward. How do you deal with that?
And I think this really comes down to taking a lot of these ideas from the development innovation space, the non-for-profit programs, the innovation programs, where you’re looking at how to bring everybody on board and how everybody can benefit from it. And then design that into corporate programs that allow all participants from the business all the way through to the individuals participating that you do have it, that you don’t just have a minority participating five or ten percent of your organization participating, but you can get seventy, eighty percent of participation.
Andrew Newby: So now let’s put away your expectations about who is supposed to be the performance expectations with respect to segments of your organization. It is about community and trust within your organization in terms of how to help your business grow. And that comes back to the crowd community empowerment, which sounds very fluffy, but it’s actually quite a powerful central idea.
Johnathan Slater: Yeah. I think the other parts that are also taken into account within the crowd or the community, is that why would somebody want to really do something with you? Why would that person see value in doing what they’re going to engage with sharing an idea or engaging with creating a group or a group of individuals that can then come up with the idea together? How will they know what somebody in Chicago, because you’re a large corporate and you have a Chicago and a London office and a Beijing office and a South African office, how can they form teams and how can they share ideas? Which actually may be really beneficial to the business. And this is where Intel innovation or innovation programs within organizations can be really beneficial. But I just think that sometimes people won’t engage with it. And your biases are built into you, your education level, how you grew up all come into this.
And even now after running hundreds of these kinds of programs, I still have to engage with certain friends who come from other educational levels or other backgrounds and actually ask them, does this make sense? My wife is one of my best people to go to because she will look at it and she works for a non-for-profits, and she looks at it and goes, but why would somebody from a non-white community want to engage with this? How can you engage people of a diverse background? And especially with Black Lives Matter coming into it, how can you make sure that it isn’t deemed that you’re just designing something that’s only for white people because that’s who you usually have designed your programs around.
How can you do that so that you don’t run your innovation program calls or something like that? When you do your webinars, that you run them at 12 until 2 PM, or you run them after 5:00 PM, what, how are you dealing with people who have got children? Have you, people who have got other reasons that they may not be able to engage with it, are you making sure that it’s available to everybody?
Andrew Newby: Right? So, you talked, you referenced how the corporate world can learn from the world of nonprofits about sort of inherent biases, challenges facing an organization. Is that an argument for saying that because the NGOs tend to be a bit slower than corporates in terms of just the way things happen that time actually taking your time slamming back is actually an advantage that the NGO space actually has that right? You know, despite all the criticisms that can be made sort of funded or otherwise about, the NGO space just, yeah, just that time horizon, I guess.
Johnathan Slater: I think the biggest thing that I learned when I got into the non-for-profit and the development space is that the validation of the process is really key. Being able to say, when you say a decision within a corporate, you can get an instantaneous buy-in from a CEO or a senior director to go. And because they like the idea, they’ll just give you support where, when you have the NGO or the development space, you have to say, okay, I’m going to design this program to work in building mini-grids in Central Africa. And I’m going to run this program.
You then have to go out and do the research to validate that there’s nobody else doing a program in that space, or why haven’t programs like that not worked before, or is there enough people who are actually interested in participating in that you have to go and make sure that your data actually works, that you actually have the correct data to actually prove that actually, this program will be successful and that the participants will be interested and engaged with us.
So, it’s a lot more stakeholder interviews. Large programs of white diversity of engagement so that everybody can access the information that you don’t assume that everybody has access to email, or has a mobile phone. How are you going to get a hold of them? How are you going to get them interested in this program? And I think that comes into the corporate space is that corporates assume that all of their staff log in to their internal intranet every day to see what the latest corporate news is. Well, actually, a lot of people may not have time to do that, or they may be so focused on their own programs or their own projects that they don’t really want to know, or they don’t even know that something’s happening and you can force people to engage.
And you can say, you have to log into the intranet once a week, but if people feel like they are forced to do something, they don’t engage with it in the same way. So, it’s taking a lot more data to prove and validate your processes before you actually launch them. And then continuously do that continuously look at your assumptions and say, actually, are the assumptions still valid because you’re running a six-month program. Are those still valid? After three months? How’s everything changed? Has the landscape changed because another donor has come in and has thrown ten million dollars at the same problem where you’ve only put in a million dollars into it?
And they’ve moved everybody away from your program because everybody is now focused on that bigger pot of money or how that is happening. And that same happens in the corporate spaces that people come up with an idea and they launch an innovation program. And then six months later, the CEOs had an amazing yoga retreat and have come up with a new way. The business is going to be run and moves everybody away. But some people are left behind still trying to focus on that, but how could they be merged together? Could they have been brought together? I’m making certain assumptions about certain CEOs at this point.
So, my own bias is coming into, even how I’ve explained that. So, it’s generalizing as well. And doing generalization actually is more harmful to an innovation program in any way, shape or form, than anything else, those generalizations, who’s going to participate? Who do you expect to participate? Who do you want to participate? Becomes really key and making sure that you drop those assumptions, you make it as interesting as possible. And that may require you to abstract the problem away so that if it’s a finance problem, you don’t make it so that the only people that can understand the problem are the finance team. You want other people to be able to engage with it, you may want to only have the finance team do it, but then why would you run it as an innovation program?
Why not? Wouldn’t you just run it as a standard program within that department, if you want other people to do with it, you have to make it so that everybody can understand the problem, or the majority of people be able to understand it? And it’s always a default. Could you explain this to your gran or your mother or somebody who may not that background? Can you still explain that problem to them? Can you keep it simple? Can you explain it in one or two sentences that kind of the whole thing about the elevator pitch? You’ve got Bill Gates in an elevator and you’ve got 30 seconds to pitch him an idea. Can you do it? Can you explain that problem, simply enough, that they can understand that? And that becomes key in terms of how you explain your innovation and what your innovation program, what you want to do.
Andrew Newby: So just in terms of what we’ve been discussing, what would be the sort of, you know if you’re having your elevator pitch, why should executive leadership care about this type of innovation and how it can affect them? What’s in it for them? Because all, you know, listening to what you’re saying, it sounds like a lot of work. It sounds like hard work constantly a bit like being fit, you know, you don’t just be fit and then that’s it, you’ve got to work on it. Innovation. You know, when companies say that digitally transformed, that’s just not a state that’s a flow. How do you get executives to sort of buy into this in a sort of hard-headed yet ethical sort of way that they can sort of, believe in?
Johnathan Slater: Oh, how to pitch it. It really depends on who I’d be looking at. But let’s take an example. I’ve got a white middle-class male CEO in front of me and I’m going to pitch to them. I’m going to say engage. Let’s engage all of your staff in coming up with the future of your business. The best way to do that is to use an open innovation or an innovation program that allows everybody to share ideas, to support each other with the ideas, but also to be able to take those ideas and make them a reality. To do that, you’re going to need to build in some processes within your business. The way to do that is to make people who are stakeholders and people to take ownership of different parts of the innovation process and allow them to be able to grow with those innovations.
As those innovations come to fruition, that may not have been the best pitch, but it hopefully has got enough keywords in there that have allowed them to go. Actually, that’s something I want to explore more. But it could be that you come up and it’s a technology company and they’ve been working on a problem for three or four years. They’ve gone out to all of their suppliers. They’ve put out technical calls and they haven’t really had a chance and haven’t had a response. Can you do that out? Can you go to your internal crowd? But could you even think about going to the external crowd? Because there are five billion people on the planet, maybe five billion people. I don’t know how many people there are right now. There are billions of people out there, could you engage with them? Could you engage with them to help solve your problem?
Are you willing to put out your ideas or your technology know-how enough that people can understand your problem and help you solve it? Working within your business is really interesting because they are your staff. You sort of own what they do during your work time, but can you ask people to invest the time who know nothing about your business, but who has still come to try and help you solve your problem within your business. And that’s where something called its really external open innovation really comes into its fruition. In that you use ideas and innovation in new ways, you allow people to take risks with your ideas. You allow people to come up with new ideas. A really good example was an Australian gold company gold mining company that decided that they had all this information, but they weren’t able to come up with it.
They’d been processing this data, but they really weren’t coming up with where they should drill next, where they should go after should they next mine. Well, they decided to take a risk and put the information out there into the public domain and said help us through a big data kind of challenge and tell us where we should be mining next. And they abstracted the data slightly. And they tried to not allow people to their competitors to be able to understand what their data or what they were releasing. But they did in the end, everybody understood what was happening, where the stage was coming from, well they were. It completely, somebody came up with a new kind of algorithm to be able to analyze this data. They were able to increase that profitability many times over, yes, there was some benefit to their competitors who had land that was associated very close to another gold scene.
And they were able to work out that actually, they should be mining that as well. But actually, the global benefit, the whole larger benefit was that actually, data was able to go out into the public domain. Researchers were able to look at this data and go, wow, okay. We need to think about maybe there are new ways of being able to analyze these large data sets. Nobody expected that when the money company released this, just to find a better way of using their own data in a new way, they’d been working on it themselves. So, there are new ways to think about things when you put things out into the outside world, but you need to take risks.
And you need to understand how you’re managing those risks. And that really comes from my side, from the development side, in that you manage that because you understand what’s going to happen. You think about all those different issues, and then you decide to take a risk to manage that risk in a way that’s appropriate so that everybody who participates in it gets something out of it.
Andrew Newby: Interesting. So, you’re harnessing the power of the crowd whilst avoiding the group. Think that might be a sort of a possible risk factor. If open innovation techniques are only in, house and become institutionalized and subject to your yoga because that must be a person. You just don’t come up with an example like that. That must be.
Johnathan Slater: Not that it’s a person, actually a few people who’ve done that. And I’ve seen that within organizations, but I would say that as a methodology, you have to be able to embrace it. You have to understand that sometimes it may not work. Clients that put out a problem and go, I hope everybody can solve this problem. I hope that this pharmaceutical company that won’t say a new biomedical marker, but somebody will help me solve that problem. But actually, nobody may be interested in that problem. Or the problem may be too complex in the way that it’s been released into the market that you’ve released the challenge out there that actually it needs to be rethought about. But that may have cost you quite a lot of money to have done that outreach and to have managed that process and the resources that have gone into it. So sometimes, what does it work? The majority of the time it does work, but you have to understand that risk and you have to manage that risk with your clients so that they can understand that it may not be successful, or they may get a non-unknown.
They may get an idea that may completely be different from what they were expecting and being open to being able to understand that idea. Some people really surprise you. Technology has come out from many different spheres, and the majority of the time the innovations have already been created, but they’re being used in a parallel industry. And how do you get your problem in front of those people who may be in a different industry or a different kind of thought process and how do you make them understand your problem and hope that they can help you solve that.
Andrew Newby: So, things will go wrong and sometimes you have to pivot in a way that might actually be really quite key to your organization. But failure is an inevitable part of this.
Johnathan Slater: I mean, when I first set up my first business, an import-export business, we were importing goods from Singapore too many years ago, for me to contemplate, we had one or two key clients, we were importing and then they found a better place, that they wanted to import. We thought we were creating this whole new business empire. And a year later we had to go, Nope, there’s no business left. And that’s a real thing. I learned so much from that in terms of failure. And when you learn from that from an innovation point of view, you have to embrace the failure as part of your innovation process, because it may not be successful. You may not be able to deliver the impact. You may invest in a particular program through a social impact investment that may fail. The hydro projects that I’ve been part of may get washed away and the insurance company may not allow you to rebuild.
So, you may lose your whole investment. You may lose your whole hydro site. And what do you do about that? Well, you move on and everybody who’s taken a risk understands that that risk has been part of that process. So, you need to make sure of it, but you hope that whoever builds your hydro site puts enough concrete in the ground so that it doesn’t wash away, but they build it and they have a manifest of the equipment they’ve built is of a good standard that allows it to last the 20, 30, 50 years that you’ve said that your program is going to exist. You need to think about those kinds of things. I mean, you have to manage your whole process.
Andrew Newby: Right? So finally, just standing back a bit, what do you think are the biggest driving forces for disruption and innovation is it purely technical? Is it demographic, climate-related? Are there any sort of threads underlying disruption, and sort of how innovation comes about from your experience?
Johnathan Slater: I think what I’m seeing in the last few months is that where people are having their livelihoods impacted, they are coming up with new ways. They’re coming with innovative ways to respond to that and how to harness that, or how to react to that in different ways. I don’t think as a society, we didn’t really do well with furlough. If we’d been able to all these people in furlough, actually given them a chance to expand their knowledge or do something new with them, could we have generated and used that brainpower in a better way? We had all of these people that were forced to stay at home, and there are still people now who are being forced not to be able to do anything. Can we use them and use their knowledge and their ideas to support innovation throughout the world? And this is happening globally to everybody, but I think technology is a really good support process, but it shouldn’t be based around technology all the time.
Recently just been working on a drone program to see if you can use commercial drones across Africa and how well that those can bring out, but it came down to actually the people it’s actually the knowledge sharing from everybody who engaged in the program actually has come up with new ways of using drones, new drone processes. We all thought it was about, the technology and how much they could carry and how fast they could fly. But actually, what the biggest outcome has been, is actually the partnerships and the people’s ideas. Being able to be able to share those ideas in a way that’s actually having a larger impact on the whole drone ecosystem than ever before. So, it comes down to people. It comes down to the crowd and engaging the crowd or the community in working on problems that they want to solve, that they think is going to benefit their community.
It comes down to people and also us being more isolated than ever before, because we’re working from home or when now in our group of six that we’re only allowed to share with or engage with. How do we then engage with other people? Is technology. Technology is the enabler technology is allowing us to sleep and engage with each other here, but actually, I’d much prefer to be actually sitting face-to-face and having this conversation with you Andrew, because we could be having different ideas and we’ll be discussing different things. Technology limits us because it’s a one-hour zoom call or a one-hour group conversation.
Those are all technology time limits here with that. You can’t leave. Well, maybe you can, but I think you’re only a teenager. If you leave your zoom call open 24 seven, and to share it with somebody else as teenagers seem to do. But I think it’s more important that we do try to think about how we engage with people and how we share ideas and how we pool ideas together to be able to benefit other people.
That’s a great note on which to end Jonathan, Jonathan Slater. Thank you so much for your time and insights today. It’s been fantastic talking to you, Many thanks.
Johnathan Slater: Thank you, Andrew. It’s been a pleasure.
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