Foundations are Fundamental: The Failure of Responsible Innovation

By Michael Watkins

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Earlier this month, Fortune published an article that looked at ‘Irresponsible Innovation’ and the effect that this phenomenon is having on some of the world’s biggest companies. In this blog, we take a look at how – using Wazoku best practice – companies can begin to turn the tide towards more responsible paths to innovation.

Much of the discussion around innovation of late has been about how best to deal with the effect that outside factors have on global business. From the increased focus on climate change to impending recessions, there’s a lot going on out there. However, this isn’t the full story. A sizeable portion of the factors that limit innovation and an organization’s ability to progress comes from internal decision-making as well.

Earlier this month, a group of tech companies and investment firms converged on the inaugural Responsible Innovation Founders Summit in a couple of different locations in the US. Comprising representatives from businesses like Grammarly, Gusto, and Salesforce, the summit’s big talking point came in response to a study that found that most executives, employees, and informed citizens believe that the tech industry is failing to meet its own responsible innovation goals.

‘Responsible Innovation’ refers to the practice of tech companies considering and, where possible, improving the societal consequences of their innovations. Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that cost Facebook $5 billion USD, tech giants set up ‘responsible innovation’ teams that were supposed to ensure that new products and processes worked fairly and equitably. However, less than a decade on, these teams are failing to have the desired impact and, in the case of Facebook and Twitter, are folding altogether.

So, what’s causing this rapid turnaround? Is it just not viable to be responsible while also operating platforms with billions of users? Or is there something more foundational that has gone wrong? To find the answer to this, we need to look back to when these teams started out. The issue was always there from the very beginning:

“The right guidance, governance, and business model wasn’t followed early on. It meant that their responsible innovation effort was reactive, and they tried to hunker down.”
// Hermant Taneja – CEO of General Catalyst, Chairman of Responsible Innovation Labs

It turns out that the reason these teams are failing in their stated objectives and being closed down is because they failed to effectively prioritize and focus resources early on. If they’d done so, the increasingly high bar by which they’re being judged within the Facebook or Twitter infrastructure would be more repeatedly achievable.

At Wazoku, when we’re supporting a customer that is using our Challenge Driven Innovation® methodology for the first time, we help them to focus and prioritize goals from the outset. Recognizing that you’re on a long-term mission at the beginning of your journey is vital, and failure to see this is what often prevents innovation programs from being successful, regardless of context or industry.

No one wants to plan long-term with so many short-term hurdles ahead. However, taking the tough decision to do so and forgoing the need for immediate impact and revolutionary results straight away will allow companies to survive, thrive, and begin to shape what the world, and their industry, looks like post-recession.

By Michael Watkins

Michael is Wazoku's Product and Brand Marketing lead. Away from the office, he's our resident film buff, so if you want some recommendations for a night in front of Netflix or a trip to your local cinema, get in touch with him!