Communities, governments, business leaders and educators across the globe have turned attention and resources toward the growing concerns about crumbling infrastructure. The risk implications around a weakened foundation are tremendous, subtracting value from roads, bridges and clean water, creating economic fragility, and provoking strife around who owns responsibility for maintenance and use of key resources.
Yet, as is almost always the case, challenge and opportunity are two sides of a single coin. As the level of stress on resources goes up, so do the opportunities for purpose-driven innovation. We’re witnessing a shift from a mentality in which creation was product directed to one in which innovation is focused on creating knowledge and solutions for present and foreseeable issues (like infrastructure).
It has brought us to the heart of what it means to create value in the Knowledge Age. And it raises the question about the degree to which that value can be economic. If ideation and creation are focused on solving problems rather than adding products/services/industries/jobs to the marketplace, does it have as much potential to strengthen and grow the economy?
Creating Solutions and Economic Value
When we study the true value of innovation in the Knowledge Age, what we see is the network. This is an era characterized by globalization, multi-generational collaboration, and wide-open communication channels. It’s created an enormous ecosystem of people bringing a wide range of insights and resources, driven to solve problems in new ways.
Framed in the infrastructure challenge, the value of this knowledge ecosystem is seen in the disruptive and transformative organizations that are creating value by solving society’s hard problems. They are local, state, regional governments focused on creating ‘lean cities.’ They are large technology companies looking at their products in new ways. And they are start-ups coming into the marketplace with solution-based innovations. In every case, they are creating economic value through efforts including shoring up resources and producing new employment channels.
We see four core drivers motivating innovators and disruptors to create value as they strive to solve problems, establish future readiness, and secure economic growth.
Public-Private Partnerships (P3)
These arrangements between a federal, state or local public agency and the private sector connect vital skills in an environment of shared risk and effort.
Collaborative Innovation Enabled by Technology and Community
The most productive innovation is focused, open, iterative and proactive. Sustaining it requires deliberate collaboration and knowledge sharing, which is best enabled by technology.
Communities and individuals, no matter how brilliant, cannot succeed without the right resources. Fundamentals like affordable energy, investment, security, risk tolerance, open data initiatives, and entrepreneurial support are necessary to innovation.
Human-to-Human Connection (H2H)
Where P3 works on a community level to drive innovation, human-to-human (H2) connection frames how individuals share their skills and goals to create progress. It requires a new way of looking at organizational structure, but we’ve seen that a properly educated, well resourced, connected labor force working collaboratively is quite possibly the most fundamental success factor in solving difficult problems.
Real World Evidence of Value
From Singapore to Milwaukee, we’re seeing these drivers producing real change. During our time at the Beyond SG50 conference, Toffler Associates discussed the framework for building Future Proof® enterprises. We considered the factors imperative to building and sustaining organizational agility. Drivers like P3, technology, and human capital figured largely in that conversation.
And in Wisconsin, an innovative program is producing unprecedented economic growth through innovative approaches to infrastructure challenges. Tapping into natural infrastructure (86% of the state is bordered by lakes) and more than a century of expertise managing water, the greater Milwaukee Region developed The Water Council to unite public leaders, educators, and private sector organizations to harness regional assets and solve global freshwater challenges.
Through our partnership with the innovationExchange LLC, Toffler Associates is collaborating with senior management of The Water Council as it becomes the world’s leading catalyst to innovation on emerging issues of “One Water.” Last year, The Water Council and the innovationExchange launched the Global Water Port, an advanced ecosystem focused on open collaboration and ideation. Toffler Associates has joined this collaboration to help ensure that the core innovation drivers are in place for The Council and its members to fully realize the potential of this cognitive and predictive intelligence platform.
We believe that The Water Council and the Global Water Port represent a model for any infrastructure sector striving to gain insight, initiate projects, find and create solutions, monitor innovations, connect with experts across the globe, and bring new ideas and solutions to life.
We’re only just beginning to understand the measurable value of this kind of innovation structure. Yet we know that it holds great promise as a solution for helping to address our biggest infrastructure challenges at local, regional, and global levels. At Toffler Associates, we’re putting resources like cognitive computing and network tools in place to frame how human, technological, and collaborative drivers can create economic value by addressing the challenges and opportunities most fundamental to our future.
It’s time to solve the fundamental challenges and create economic health by harnessing technological and human capital.
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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