Inventing for the other 90%

Growing without design? housings in El Alto

Growing without design? housings in El Alto

The more I get to know the work in large corporations the more it strikes me how much money they spend (or waste) on generating new ideas. Thousands and millions are made available for new or not so new ideas and for exploring new fields of business in continually saturated markets. It comes by little surprise that a lot of the results are pretty poor. Granted, when dealing with “innovation processes” you never know what you’ll get for your investment which makes it hard to judge which money could be saved. But what could be sparked with these funds if applied elsewhere, outside of the business context?

A lot of “ideas” or development efforts are not focused on new technologies or services in the sense of making our lives better. They are just meant to produce new or refined business models so that the company can earn more money. Serving the user’s (let’s say: real) needs from a more holistic point of view is just not taken into account (literally!). In the end of inovation workshops, the single factor for decisions about the future “life” of an idea is profit and not user needs.

I don’t want to criticise companies (at least not here) for their single minded goals of making profits–in the system of capitalism it’s their only reason of existence (and even the companies can’t keep the money but have to pass it on to their shareholders. The contradiction between user needs and profits grows even more this way, as AndrĂ© Gorz describes very clearly). But if we allow us just for a little moment to think outside these business restrictions: Enormous resources are spent to make some bright minds comfortable and creative every day so that they struggle with those oversaturated markets and fight against the “no need barriers” of obviously happy customers.
What if a fraction of these efforts was directed on problems like child poverty, ecologic smartness, cultural diversity? What if oxfam, amnesty international or terre des hommes could be supplied with a comparable stream of brain work?
For sure the effects would be enormous. So many people are longing for a better life and don’t have to be convinced by (insanely) expensive marketing. And all those people are more than willing to contribute as much as they can (and often fail because of lack of influence).

Increadible amounts spent to get ideas on how to cram even more products into costumers in the one world and the destruction and the eradication of so many perspectives because of lacking funds and minds in the other one: That’s an insight that makes me really, really sad.
Of course, you could believe in the Trickle-Down-Effect and hope that the more profits large companies make the more they can invest in new ideas that finally will make the lives of all of us better; but noone is able to tell how long are we supposed to wait for some drips to reach the bottom.

On the contrary! It might be totally plausible that we can’t design within the usual innovation (business, distribution) system if we want to reach this bottom…

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