Preface – The Future of Innovation: An Evolutionary Perspective

Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.”  ? Richard Dawkins

“The beauty of artifacts is in how they reassure us we’re not the first to die.” ? Simon Van Booy

We humans, conscious and willful as we are, are merely the mechanism whereby the artifacts we create survive. Innovation can be understood using an evolutionary paradigm in which humans are the force of mutation and recombination that creates new artifacts. We are the agents that mutate and recombine the ‘genes’ of technology from which artifacts are constructed.

In addition, humans are the environment in which the fitness of new artifacts is determined. We act as agents of adoption, creating the individual and social environment of demand that determines the ‘fitness’ of artifacts.

Using this evolutionary perspective, the future of innovation will be determined by:

  1. Organizations (design ecosystems) that create ‘fit’ artifacts through mutation (creation of new) and recombination (organization of existing) of design elements. Design ecosystems evolve as organizations that are more effective at mutation, recombination and testing fitness emerge.
  2. Individuals, communities, and societies (i.e. demand ecosystems) that are adept at determining the fitness of new artifacts. Demand ecosystems evolve as individuals and communities of adoption constantly change what is fit and how fitness is determined.
  3. Innovator’s ability to manage the recursive feedback dynamics of the two complex systems of design and demand will determine how rapidly artifacts evolve. The number, variability and frequency of artifacts introduced increases and they quickly die or thrive

 Our artifacts not only deal with us and assist us in innovating; they increasingly deal with each other and innovate on their own
The complex, recursive system that is innovation results from interaction between human centered design and human driven demand. Humans are ill-equipped to deal with the accelerating volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) of the dynamic systems we create and the increasing pace of artifact evolution. Human evolution has burdened us with multiple deficiencies – confirmation bias, poor memories, availability heuristic etc. – that impede our ability to deal with the VUCA world of our own making. As a result, we cannot rely on our own species evolution to overcome these deficits. We must, instead, rely on the evolution of our artifacts. We create artifacts that mitigate our deficiencies and become the intelligences that will drive innovation in the future.

Humans have evolved the desire to innovate. This desire leads us to constantly create better means of innovating, from our tools to our organizations.  As these means of innovating get better, the world moves faster and humans alone are unable to keep up. We increasingly rely on artifacts to help us and we become increasingly symbiotic with them. Our artifacts not only deal with us and assist us in innovating; they increasingly deal with each other and innovate on their own. The ‘soft’ human holds hands with the ‘hard’ machine to advance both the artifact creation and the artifact consumption experience.

This future of innovation will be a reality of our own making and we will adapt to it as we have adapted to all of the ways we have innovated, and the innovations that have resulted, in the past. Once we acknowledge ourselves as agents in the self-perpetuating system of innovation we then realize that we are what our artifacts want.

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