I delivered the following remarks on May 11 as part of The Illahee Lecture Series 2011, "Searching for Solutions: Innovation for the Public Good," in Portland, Oregon.
This evening, I’d like to get innovative about how we think about innovation itself. The corporate cliché is to “think outside the box.” That is such an inside-the-box way of thinking! I say let’s get rid of the box! Tonight I want to talk about a new vector of innovation: how we’re going to manage our dwindling, finite natural resources and arrest the pathological growth imperatives of our economy while recovering a more sane, socially constructive way of life for human beings. Now there’s a radical innovation challenge!
The subtext of most innovation-talk these days is efficiency and profitability. Innovation is essentially the bigger-better-faster ethic – the next super-computer or bio-engineered cow or Segue scooter. But the grim reality is that there are a whole class of societal problems that are not likely to become market opportunities,ever.
Worse, conventional markets, in the course of creating new wealth, are generating all sorts of illth, in John Ruskin’s phrase – cost, unintended byproducts that must be put on the ledger sheet in any calculation of our supposed wealth. Our market economy is generating whole new classes of illth such as global warming, dying coral reefs, biodiversity loss and species extinctions.