Some insights from the Innov8rs Connect event on Climate & SDGs

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I had the great pleasure of moderating two sessions at the recent event by Innov8rs Connect on Climate & SDGs which took place online between 7th and 28th April, and thought the insights from these sessions might perhaps be of interest to you. The two sessions and their speakers were, 

1. “Is Sustainability A Gift To The Innovation Department?” with Jesper Müller-Krogstrup, CEO & Founding Partner NOSCO


2. “The Convergence Of Private Cellular With Smart City” with Lilach Ilan, Assistance Vice President – Innovation and Partner Ecosystem at AT&T & Adam Rashid, Senior Vice President – Head of Smart Cities & Digital Infrastructure at JBG SMITH

Particularly the first session was very close to my heart, as I have been preaching that sustainability is a HUGE opportunity for innovation departments for a couple of decades … Here goes:


1. “Is Sustainability A Gift To The Innovation Department?
Jesper Müller-Krogstrup, CEO & Founding Partner NOSCO

Jesper shared insights from his work enabling companies to innovation, making three claims around which he emailed some wonderful discussion. The three claims were: 

    1. Companies struggle to become more innovative and life is difficult for many innovation departments (slide 9)
    2. Prioritising sustainability and SDGs are not just the right thing to do. It’s also good business. (slide 16) 
    3. Sustainability and the SDGs works as guiding principle in the 8 innovation essentials (the 8 innovation essentials as defined by McKinsey: Aspire, Mobilise, Extend, Discover, Choose, Scale, Evolve, Accelerate; for more info click here (slide 22).

When Jesper introduced his insights behind the first claim I had to smile… having been on the path of ‘understanding and enabling innovation’ for close to 30 years, it all sounded too familiar and while I know that our understanding of innovation hs evolved considerably over the past 30 years, it seems that she fundamental challenges remain the same: 

    • While the top and the bottom are enthusiastic about innovation, the middle remains a shooting alley for innovation. My take o it? Many of tose in decision making positions the got there due to their ability to improve efficiencies and cut costs. No one should be surprised that these people are reluctant to give green lights to innovation, which, invariably, is fraud with ambiguity and uncertainty and threatened to undue all of their hard work… (slide 10)
    • Not many organisations bother to calculate the ‘innovation gap’, ie identify the resources required to deliver the growth that  innovation is supposed to create; and when times get tough the budget for big ‘I’ innovation tends to be the first to be cut (which is of course the opposite of what should happen …) (slide 11)
    • A lack of a dedicated innovation strategy, with tight links to the organisation’s overall strategy makes innovation efforts some times look like headless chickens …

So so delighted about Jesper’s second and third claims! In my view, any innovation that does NOT have sustainability considerations at its core is, in these times, irresponsible (which I first declared at a conference in 2011). Despite evidence to the contrary, the argument why sustainability has not yet become the key driver for innovation remains the alleged increase in costs / price. Indeed, resource efficiencies, recyclability, a shift from products to service – all things that lead to an improvement in sustainability – tend to benefit the bottom line. Collaborating with (unusual) suspects to address the challenges of humanity and our planet – something highly recommended by Lilach and Adam in their contribution – often opens up new markets, and benefits the top line.

I also loved his very easy to apply practical advice on how to put sustainability onto the agenda, for the benefit of our planet, customers and the company:

    • #1 Start with selecting your SDGs as targets in a shared Aspiration 
    • #2 Apply sustainability and SDGs as guiding principle across the 8 innovation essentials
    • #3 Prioritising sustainability and SDGs are not just the right thing to do. It’s also good business

The fabulous news is, Jesper has agreed, via Innov8rs, that the link to his session can be shared, so to view it click here.  

Some questions around innovation and sustainability:

  • In the context of innovation, how is your organisation engaging with the sustainability agenda?
  • Where over the course of the innovation journey do questions around sustainability come into play?
  • Do you actively use the sustainable development goals to focus sustainability-related innovation efforts?


2. “The Convergence Of Private Cellular With Smart City
Lilach Ilan, Assistance Vice President – Innovation and Partner Ecosystem at AT&T & Adam Rashid, Senior Vice President – Head of Smart Cities & Digital Infrastructure at JBG SMITH

Lilach and Adam shared insights from a somewhat unusual collaboration: between a telecoms company and a real estate developer. Aim of this collaboration was to innovate towards the first Smart City, with G5 as its backbone, and a desire to move towards sustainability as backdrop.

In case you are wondering what is meant by ‘Smart City’, here a good description by McKinsey:

“Smart Cities put data and digital technology to work to make better decisions and improve the quality of life. More comprehensive, real-time data gives agencies the ability to watch events as they unfold, understand how demand patterns are changing, and respond with faster and lower-cost solutions.

Three layers work together to make a smart city hum (Exhibit 1). First is the technology base, which includes a critical mass of smartphones and sensors connected by high-speed communication networks. The second layer consists of specific applications. Translating raw data into alerts, insight, and action requires the right tools, and this is where technology providers and app developers come in. The third layer is usage by cities, companies, and the public. Many applications succeed only if they are widely adopted and manage to change behaviour. They encourage people to use transit during off-hours, to change routes, to use less energy and water and to do so at different times of day, and to reduce strains on the healthcare system through preventive self-care.”

 In order to enable a smart city, huge amounts of data need to be processed, in real time. That is not possible without 5G.

Where sustainability comes in, is that the volume of data and the speed with which the data can be transmitted and analysed allow for decision to be made in real time. Whether it is leading cars to the first available parking space (without having to drive around in circles again and again), being able to avert drivers to the least congested times to travel, heating and lighting of buildings depending on whether or not they are occupied, or monitoring levels of air and water pollution, again in real time. ‘Real time’ becomes particularly important in the context of self-driving cars: any time lag in the communication between car, surround cameras and other aspects such as traffic lights can be lethal. 

One of the benefits of the unusual collaboration between a telecoms company and a real estate developer is that any necessary alignment between technology and the built environment can happen in parallel, rather than having to be done sequentially.

Here a few insights I took away from their conservation for what makes collaboration – especially between unlikely partners – work.

  • To start with a more personal level, the collaboration is off to a great start if the collaborators share values;
  • Second, a shared vision is important, both need to work towards the same overall goal; if each can deliver a different part or aspect, the better;
  • Which links to the third aspect, what ever is being developed has to be beneficial for both parties involved.

Lilach also shared three things that she felt were particularly important when engaging in boundary-spanning collaboration:

  • Go and talk to companies you would normally not talk to;
  • Don’t enter the collaboration with preconceived ideas of what is and isn’t possible; keep an entirely open mind and see what emerges; 
  • It has  start with a personal relationship; there has to be deep trust, and the relationship works best when it is based on completely honesty and openness.

Some questions around collaborating with unusual suspects

  • Are you aware, that collaborating with ‘unusual suspects’ is the best way to create new markets, i.e. to come up with radical or even transformational innovation? 
  • Are you doing anything to identify ‘unusual’ collaboration partners? 
  • Would anything in your organisation’s culture have to change to enable collaboration with unusual suspects?

If you feel like sharing your answers to any of the questions, I’d be delighted to hear from you!

Wishing you all a healthy and safe spring,

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