In a recent article I submitted to Social Innovation Europe, who are building and streamlining the social innovation field in Europe, I made some arguments against national borders for social innovation, actually I’d say any innovation, even in its organizing values. We simply miss to much in todays globally connected world. Let me explain that part here on ‘the why’ that I believe in this:
Innovation is simply not containable within borders
Firstly innovation is not containable within borders; not ideas, not practices, not final concepts. If we try to simply constrain it, it will never get the traction and momentum often needed from those ‘great ideas’ born locally, to ever grow and scale and achieve their true success. Nationalized innovations are never seen or valued by others, and even more importantly, they aren’t seen and adopted as ‘our own’ solutions.
Innovation simply goes where it is needed or felt
Innovation should simply go where it is needed and felt. The closer you are to the final consumer, the greater chance you have of solving their needs or even unmet needs. It is often policy, constrained funding and human interference that intervenes to stop that natural open flow. Thankfully that is changing: as we recognise within our shrinking world, movement is completed now in milliseconds. We inform others, and transfer knowledge and ideas fast. National borders are powerless to stop this knowledge flow and that is good for innovation. Where these innovations are seen as valuable, the ‘smart money’ follows to build.
Social issues are incredibly fluid and can’t be contained
Social issues are even more fluid; boundaries can be even more permeable. The Arab Spring is testimony to that; social and economic crisis facing Europe at present is yet another one where social unrest is driving change. Social issues are forcing change that simply flows across borders.
We might still believe one country and its social problems are different from another but they often have the same core issue, concerns, pressures and conflicts behind them. Often because we don’t work on this similarity in early identification we leave ourselves short on insight, as we dismiss “their problems are simply different from ours”- are they really?
National Innovation has significant blind spots
Also have you noticed how often National organizing activities seem to have a number of inherent blind spots. In this case of Social Innovation, will the filtration system be useful and to whom, the whole social community or narrow groups? Will it be discerning enough? Will it truly represent the broad spectrum of social ills and challenges that are around? Will it simply be a needless obstacle, another filter in the chain? Will anything national represent your views and issues appropriately with a clear enough understanding to add value?
My final thought here.
Why do we still compare and contrast innovation on a National basis- innovation is global, most global innovation moves where it is best managed or delivered? All national measurements do is simply capture a given part of the activities going on within a geographical area, it complety misses the across border flows that make up the higher value points within innovation.
Also any reports you read on national comparision never, I repeat NEVER, can really compare fully each country. Each has different ways it approaches innovation that reflect their context, objectives and conditions.
The extended articles
If you are interested the extended article for Social Innovation Europe was in two parts:
About SIE: https://socialinnovationeurope.eu/about
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.