Two of America’s tech powers — IBM and Microsoft — have given glimpses of what they consider the most exciting and promising research opportunities for the future. Their lists are fascinating in their own right but also in a comparative sense, for what they show about the two companies.
There will be more to say about specific items later on. For now, you can see IBM’s list of “Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in the Next Five Years” here, and a Network World report on 10 hot projects from Microsoft’s research center here. I think much about both companies is revealed by the comparison — not to mention the implications for all of us if these visions are fulfilled.*
I am very excited to embark on this new combined research and consultancy project about People Centred Innovation with Base of the Pyramid. For the next six months I will be exploring how we can create new products and business models to improve the life of the half of the world’s population who is getting by on less than 4 usd a day (in comparative purchasing power as if they were living in the US), and how we can put people first and include their needs and aspirations, and their knowledge and resources in this. The UN calls it Growing Inclusive Markets.
The research project is funded by Network for Research Based Userdriven Innovation – NfBI and I have the pleasure of being part of the team of very skilled people at the SPIRE – Research Center for Participatory Innovation – at University of Southern Denmark. My case in this project is based on my collaboration with Danish company Danisco, who provides bio-based solutions for food ingredients and other stuff. I am working as a consultant in the project team together with their innovation manager Flemming Vang Sparsø, and we are exploring how Danisco can develop products and business models that will improve the nutrition and income of people in the rural areas of India. (And this is by the way what brings me to India, but more about this a bit later).
I have in recent days been looking at curricula in design schools all over. You would have seen posts here about how service design is the management-wallahs (and there are many among us in design who find management a big turn on) gaining prominence, how interaction design is the computer-science-wallahs gaining prominence (and their position is not about quality of life so much as problem-solving, the internet is taken for granted. as is the pervasive nature of the digital. But is that all?). Both these disciplines are a-political and anti-social so now they both have jargon to make up for the deficiency: Corporate Social Responsibility and User Centered Design. Both of these perspectives answer the question (which has come done unaltered from the 1st industrial age) of “how do we humanise our work?” So this is top-down perspectives trying to sound bottom up. This was my criticism of the BOP agenda – where CK speaks of ‘money to be made’ in the markets where the poor shop!!
Dont you find that a bit problematic. Post crash we have seen acknowledgement of the venality of the ‘top’ – and the bailout by the friends of the ‘top’. I dont see Obama making that much of a change. He has the promise – but isn’t ll that much of a bottom up person. He was after all only a community organiser – not like some of us ‘an activist’. And therein lies the biggest challenge to world civilization – to do ‘feel good’ stuff (Obama) or to get down and ‘privilege’ the bottom over the ‘top’. This is impossible for this way of thinking is considered ‘left’ and red.
I’ve been reading the Obama Administration Plan for Innovation, Science & Technology on the barackobama.com.issues.technology site. And the site name gives it all away—the discussion about innovation is on the tech site. There is, in fact, very little in the way of innovation in this plan, as you will see for itself when you read it. It’s all about technology—math and science and engineering. Which is terrific, but not necessarily innovative.
Now on all the major issues, Obama gets it right—openness of the net (yes), connecting government with its citizens through social media, more funding for science, a permanent R&D tax credit, etc. You can check off the issues.
But, and this is a big but, there is little about user-centric methods to create new options for tough problems in education, transporation or health. The Plan says that “Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO).” Well, he actually needs to appoint a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) because change is as much about sociology as technology, as much about creativity as science.