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Innovation, disruption and sustainability

Innovation, which was at the core of the human evolution, is probably the most-trending word of the modern era. Today, the concept of ‘Disruptive Innovation’, which drives cut-throat competition through new business models with short gestation periods, is gaining momentum. Disruption becoming an integral part of the innovation process is a worrisome trend. I often find myself in a dilemma about the rationale of ‘being ahead’ instead of ‘being relevant’ in local markets.

Karl Marx, the influential German philosopher and economist, is regarded as the most ambitious and scathing critic of capitalism. However, not too many people know that he admired the revolutionary potential of the then nascent system that mustered productive forces on a scale unparalleled in human history, and paved the way for unimaginable industrialization and innovation. However, Marx believed that the contradictions at the heart of capitalism, if left unresolved, would ring its death knell.

One of Marx’s prognosis that is indisputably true till date is of an impersonal colossal system that takes efficiency and productivity at unprecedented levels, but in the process reduces the human to a commodified cog in a giant wheel, estranging himself from his individual essence, fruits of his labor, as well as the society, which is commonly known as his Theory of Alienation. Marx was a strong advocate of protecting ‘creativity’ (innovation) of the ‘artisans’ (people) for a sustainable local ecosystem. Similarly, the Gandhian philosophy promoted the idea of cottage industry as a means of sustainable living.

As globalization of economy brought in interdependence of market practices and behavior amidst consistently growing volatile nature of world order, Marx’s premise that capitalism is antagonistic to individual liberty and creativity may not hold true anymore, but his argument that it would increase competition and culminate in the alienation of human species from one’s own neighborhood and creativity, is becoming more relevant than ever.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is supposedly based on innovative disruptions and consistently challenging/reducing the gestation period of any prevailing economic model. Speed and scalability are fundamentally a game of deep-pocket economies that can afford to invest upfront and create and capture markets worldwide in a very short span of time. So, what happens to the majority of countries who don’t have the wherewithal to innovate, disrupt and compete?

While we struggle to deal with social, economic and political disparities in different parts of the world and have just started to work towards bridging the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, the digital divide is entrenching the existing divide. As we enter into the Fourth Industrial Age, there are several geographies that haven’t yet developed sufficient capacities to reap the value and benefits of the Third Industrial Age.
As a result of growing disenchantment and alienation in the society, there is already talk around why enterprises should once again focus on ‘stakeholders’ (employees and the larger society), and not just on ‘shareholders’.

The big questions regarding ‘sustainability’ and ‘relevance’ for the local neighborhood remain unanswered. How do we ensure democratization of innovation at local levels to find relevant and sustainable solutions for our neighborhood, instead of making them productive arms of global industrial process? How do we empower those who have been lagging behind for centuries, to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Age?
There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer here.

Also Read: It isn’t disruption; it’s continuum of evolution