Societal Innovation

Challenging Our Future Thinking

Societal Innovationby Paul Hobcraft

There needs to be this major shift from market-led to more socially-lead organizations occurring. We see pockets of this in a number of business organizations offering clearer governance and sustainability outlines as part of their annual reporting. We need to push them a lot harder. We need to move away from business- only innovation into society based.

The shifts taking place

Society has shifted, is shifting; the consumer is becoming the supplier of content, of meaning, of their taste preferences, their emotions and the goods and services they will buy. Mass consumption, the model honed in the 20th century doesn’t work anymore. Customers are actually saying “less choice, more say” and seeking deeper self-determination. This personalizing of preference can seem like more complexity for organizations but there are many ways to manage this but it requires real change in organizations, oriented to society more, serving them more.

The marketing thinking is in need of adapting also.

Consumers are searching for better well-being: through health and wellness, connectedness, personal growth and identity and control. Everything is coming more into a ‘context’ economy that places value on customization, adaptability and transformation with the overriding value statement of “what we will value as against what we consume”.

Social innovation becomes increasingly important within communities

Facing a fairly long period of economic restructuring in most developed economies, the consistent globalization of local jobs, rapid technology change, polarization of opinions we seemingly are all facing a world of great uncertainty and increasing complexity.

Our governments are searching for solutions. The premium seems to be centered on new knowledge acquisition to add jobs and promote new solutions to tackle unfamiliar or persistent problems within society. We seemingly can’t afford or tolerate in capital markets anything that seems inefficient, applying unsustainable practices or not innovating well.

Innovation based on social problems offers a real meaningful solution for us all. If we can harness the best ideas for emergent problems, explore these in timely fashion we can move beyond our existing crisis. We all searching for personal meaning and society does offer this really.

The four main areas that Social Innovation can address

  1. Resolving the problems around our growing physical needs and limited resources (age, health, education)
  2. The increasing need for a different type of skill and capability set that innovation seems to require and often we are not taught- in school, business or society
  3. A major shift in care and service – serving the needs of others, communities and those actually close to us
  4. Psychic needs – the recognition, increased understanding and care that cuts across our societies in so many different, often in bewildering ways.

Innovation is social, social is the new innovation

Social and interpersonal aspects (social media, networks, relationships) are aspects of innovation that are increasingly being recognizes and understood to being critical to the innovation process. The realization innovation needs people, everything else are enablers. People hold the key role in the innovation process as the creators and carriers of knowledge. They develop it, they translate it, and they consume it.

The increased art of collaboration and co-creation

Collaboration and co-creation is emerging that has the potential to provide those value creation points society requires. We need to learn how to cooperate. I was reading a book recently by Gaurave Bhalla called Collaboration and Co-creation: New platforms for Marketing and Innovation and he offers a simple but powerful framework – Listen-Engage-Respond.

Society that can be mobilized links the economic, social and environmental spheres; it can have a cumulative dynamic effect if we can harness it.

Pushing society to solve its growing problems needs to happen

We simply do have the capacity to solve our problems but it needs the combination of private, public, voluntary sectors, philanthropists, foundations and society to come together in different ways than we have seen in the past. That is why we are entering the era of societal innovation and we need to get business even more tuned in than ever. We need to develop a greater social and cultural lens to translate our concerns, fears and insecurities into beliefs, values and aspirations that offer a vibrant future. Innovation is now needed in all walks of life- this is our societal challenge.

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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