The future of innovation

Innovation trends

Innovation literature talks about concepts such as increasing internal clock speed, application of anthropology, the use of serendipity, the focus on execution and the creation of a big tolerance for mistakes, which includes the need for a failure fund. I think that the innovators of the future have to consider four main things. They need to understand exponential, the need to understand circular and climate change and the need to focus more on the social aspects of innovation.


You need to understand exponential.

  • If you want a sense of how quick things go, the book to read is “The Second Machine Age” or “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly. These books are about technologies such as AI, robotics, genetics, sensors, material science, nanny, health, energy, biology, quantum physics, etc. I am writing a book about future-proofing and so far if I have counted 120 technology trends. All are going at an exponential rate. Understanding exponential is important.
  • Every technology at the moment is rocket boosting. AI, biology, data, ICT, genetics, robotics, drones, augmentation, quantum computing, you name it. Getting combined like Lego blocks. Science fiction is becoming science fact. Watson reads 800 million pages per second. Every second. Watson is twice as good as a surgeon at making the right diagnosis. If Watson is already better than a top surgeon, what else is it capable of?
  • Audi has self-driving cars with different personalities (nobody knows how/why). The ghost is in the machine.
  • Google has 2 AI computers talking to each other in an encrypted language and a third one trying to break the encryption. So far without success. We now have two AIs talking to each other, and we have no idea what they are talking about. That is a potential Skynet.
  • A book titled “The Seventh Sense” would suggest that AI is clever enough not to let us know that is has taken over.
  • Exponential can potentially mean abundance. The most optimistic book is “Bold” by Peter Diamandis. He is part of the Singularity University. They believe that man and machine will merge, that immortality is near and the exponential will solve the problems of the world.
  • And as Peter Hinssen in “The day after tomorrow” explains, there is no preparing for it. We are all standing on a plateau, and the road is about the rise up nearly vertically before us. Which is why every CEO and every innovation director needs to spend 20% on tomorrow. More importantly 10% on the day after tomorrow.

From an innovation perspective that means you have to not starting thinking disruption, but big bang disruption. And you have a choice; you can slow down or go faster. That is also the title of my book. A lot of trend watching or mediation and reflection. It is probably both. You can download it here.

Climate change

I am also entrepreneur-in-residence for Sustainable Nation, where we try to tackle climate change through entrepreneurship and innovation. We think that climate change is the biggest threat and opportunity in the 21st century. Climate change is going to transform business models. I have two children, Alice and Luca, aged 20 and 17. If you believe in “Climate change” we are leaving them a very bleak future. The effects of heating up another 2 degrees are horrendous. We are talking a combination of “Water world” (the movie with Kevin Costner) or “Mad Max” (I prefer the Mel Gibson version).

  • “The end of Western Civilisation” which is supposedly written 100 years from now and looks back. It talks about how we managed not to do anything about it and walk into this like we were sleepwalking. Big business and vested interests slowing us down. It predicts Donald Trump. Scarily accurate.
  • But there are very good business reasons to consider climate change as a huge factor. “The big pivot” suggest that accounting models in the future will have to take into account the use of natural capital. If every company would calculate the impact and cost of cleaning up after themselves and be impact neutral, we will all be bankrupt. But policymakers are considering these type of measures. COP 21 is only the beginning and as effects worsen drastic policy measures will be taken.
  • It is also one of the biggest business opportunities. A guaranteed spent of between 80-90 trillion dollars within 20-30 years. Bigger than the internet.
  • If you are looking for inspiration, “Drawdown” is the book to read. First, it shows you how wasteful we are (plastic!!!), but then it gives you 90 solutions that are already available and working. There are also a few far-out solutions, such as the artificial leaf, which is about biomimicry. Remember that work. Biomimicry.

Climate change is also exponential. We are only feeling the effect of the emissions from the 90s. It is going to get worse before it is going to better. I think it is two exponential lines going up. One is climate, the other is innovation, and they need to meet before we get to two degrees. That should be your focus.


“No ordinary disruption” takes a hard statistical perspective. Our current ecological footprint is 1.5 times what the planet can provide. Which means that we are running out of things such as copper, zinc and other commodities. We are also running out of water. Prices are shooting up. Very soon going fully neutral or circular makes perfect sense for businesses in order to secure your supply lines. We are going to have to move from linear to circular.


In “Thank you for being late” Friedman (he wrote “The world is flat”), talks about exponential in technology and climate change, but also about exponential globalisation. Everything is connected. There is a book called “Overconnected” which shows you how scary that is. Ongoing chaos theory where a butterfly can blow up a nuclear reactor so to speak. But also leaving people bewildered and afraid. It is all going too fast.

  • Friedman explains how one individual terrorist (combining biology with genetics) can destroy everyone on the planet. He is screaming for the importance of social innovation. We can’t leave anyone behind. Community development as an insurance to disaster.
  • The good news is that more and more companies are starting the realise that. Hence books like “evolved enterprise” and “firms of endearment”. Companies with a strong ethical ethos at the heart of their businesses. Looking after their staff, their customers and the environment.
  • What is interesting that they are much more profitable and “Antifragile” then their “normal” counterparts. By a factor of 14 to 1. They grow faster, have a higher return on investment, happier staff, more loyal customers. Patagonia is an example. If it is good enough for Unilever……….
  • “Exponential organisations” is one of my favourite books in that context.


What do you think the number one success factor is for a company to scale and grow big? Big Transformative Purpose. Only with that can attract the talent, particularly the Millennials to work for you. Or get customers to buy from you. There are now 668,000 social enterprises, generating $ 270 billion per year. And it is growing and will merge with normal business. Eventually, all businesses will become new capitalist, applying the triple bottom line. Social, economic and environment. All of that is great news. That should also inform your innovation efforts. It is the perfect rally cry to transform your business and engage with your staff. Something you and your staff can be proud of. Making a difference.

The future of innovation

So if you ask me what the future of innovation is. I think it is more social than technical, positively transformative, frugal and focused on going circular. Don’t forget biomimicry.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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