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ictQATAR's second Connected Speakers event featured University of California Davis Professor Andrew Hargadon who redefined what innovation in ICT means, and how technology can contribute to energy efficiency.
With an attendance that exceeded 300 people, ictQATAR's second Connected Speakers event featured University of California Davis Professor Andrew Hargadon who redefined what innovation in ICT means, and how technology can contribute to energy efficiency.
Borrowing from Thomas Edison's experience with innovation, Hargadon took the audience on a journey between the past and the future to explore the difference between innovation and invention. Prior to the seminar, Hargadon sat with ictQATAR e-newsletter to give this exclusive interview on many of the concepts and notions that he has.
Watch the full interview and Hargadon's full presentation on ictQATAR's YouTube channel.
The topic of your Connected Speakers session focused on how ICT can contribute to energy efficiency. How do you think that will take place?
ICT is going to play a huge role in climate change and increasing energy efficiency. One of the most important things to recognize is that ICT has the opportunity to make contributions across the range of energy consumption and production. Essentially, it operates by what we call: making the grid smarter. But what really means is capturing inefficiencies and by doing so, making the whole grid more efficient. ICT is a solution that sort of applies to all the problems we have. And in that way, I think it distinguishes itself from solar energy or wind or hydro energy in that it is not simply a supply solution.
How do you think Cloud Computing can lessen the amount of carbon footprints?
Cloud Computing is going to make a huge difference - the ways in which it could help with carbon footprints is particularly the opportunity to get rid of our in-home computing devices which all tend to use a fair amount of electricity, whether they are on or off. Cloud Computing makes it an opportunity to reduce that energy consumption across all markets - residential, consumer and business. But Cloud Computing can also cause more trouble in that data centers take an enormous amount of energy to run. And while they are more efficient than all of us having the equivalent computer power at home, they provide us with much more computing power. The biggest growth in energy demand right now is coming from those data centers. We have a long way to go to make those more efficient. Cloud Computing is going to have this double-edged sword, it is going to help us make our own computing more efficient, but at the same time, the more it becomes ubiquitous, the more energy it will demand.
Do you envision any future innovations that could possibly help in the environmental aspect?
I think one of the most interesting things about ICT is that you really can't predict what is going to happen with them. We can guess how it will be applied now - making smarter transmissions, distribution and energy consumptions at home - but we can't guess how people will come up with solutions. And that's what makes ICT so exciting in the energy space.
In your point of view, how is "innovation" different from "invention"?
The big difference around "innovation" is that despite what it looks like in the media, innovation tends to be new combinations of old ideas. What's driving the impact of innovation is not the novelty of the idea as much as it's the new business model and partners who are brought together to make that idea successful. Invention seems to focus on an individual or a particular time in which an idea happened, and it gives everybody the idea that these inventions spring up overnight and could suddenly make change. In fact, those changes take place over decades, as a result of hard work, new policy shifts and business innovations, rather than simply technological solutions coming up. The more we look to inventions to save the day, the more misled we can be in hoping that something could come along that takes the world by storm, when in fact those things that really made a difference weren't inventions - but improvements on existing ideas, often brought into new markets.
Some innovative ideas could be appealing, but carry the risk of becoming obsolete or less viable in the long run. How can we evaluate innovation on the long run?
That's a great question - I think the best way to judge a technology is not by what it does immediately, or what it can do as it improves in that particular application - but rather by what it enables others to do in other applications that we really haven't guessed yet. There are some technologies that have a single purpose - solar cells for example. We can guess how they will evolve and predict their efficiency over the coming years. What we don't know about ICT is how they will be used in the future. When the Internet was first created in 1971, we could never have predicted the uses it could have created for itself. When you look at a new opportunity for innovation, it's dangerous when you can see which path it will take. You would want to look for innovations that could evolve and flourish in ways that you couldn't expect.
Is productivity the best evaluative criteria for innovation?
Productivity is obviously a critical criteria, because you want to make sure that innovation will contribute immediately. Innovation shouldn't cost anything in the short run, so measuring innovation by productivity, you should always have a net positive gain. But what you really want to measure about innovation is not simply productivity in the way it was intended to be used, but also productivity and change in the way you would do other things you wouldn't have expected to do. Those changes are very difficult to measure - all you can measure is the potential.
You wrote about the "Knowledge brokering cycle". Can you briefly explain the phases of such cycle?
Knowledge brokering is a recognition that because innovation is a new combination of old ideas, the people that will look to that are generally innovative and have often put themselves in a position where they could see the ideas that are out there already and the markets that haven't yet seen or used these ideas. There is a 4-step process that my co-author, Bob Sutton, and I described about knowledge brokering. The first is finding yourself in a position where you could span multiple worlds - you can see how an idea in one world can be used in another and find means by which it could work. Rarely do you see these ideas right when you need them. Often you need to remember them, retrieve them and put them together in new combinations. The biggest challenge for organizations is keeping that memory and keeping access to those ideas because people come and go, and then finally being willing to experiment in new combinations of those ideas.
You wrote of the idea generation techniques followed in organizations. How can organizations help its employees generate innovative ideas?
Brainstorming is typically seen as an example - it's a structured activity in which teams get together and set judgments aside for a while and try to come up with as new ideas as they can. It's often described as the cure for creative blocks in organizations, but others describe it as unproductive because individuals - if they had spent that time alone - could have come up with many ideas. It turns out that the role of brainstorming is more than just getting people together to come up with ideas. It reinforces a culture in which people are encouraged to come up with new ideas and brings people out if their cubicles for a moment to think about the problems that others in the organization are working on.
How can business leaders change their attitudes towards innovation?
Leaders should encourage prototyping - trying an idea out. Often leaders say: No, we don't want to do that. Sometimes, that's critical. If you look at Steve Jobs for example, some of the best decisions he made were the ones he said no in - not letting Apple get distracted by doing too many projects. But at the same time, a leader has to know how and when to say yes. Rather than saying yes and committing the organization to a particular path that they believe is right, the best things leaders can do is saying yes to prototypes to test the assumptions they and the organization are making. And lastly, execution: what a leader needs to do is that once a decision has been made to bring an innovation forward, is to focus on making it happen.
By: Mina Nagy