What do hermit crabs, a real estate company and marine biologists have to do with innovation!? These were some of the interesting things discussed in an insightful interview with James Bidwell, CEO of global innovation discovery engine Springwise.
With innovation being one of the hottest buzzwords in boardrooms around the globe at the moment, I sat down with James to find out more about how organisations can continue to innovate in the rapidly changing world around us.
Springwise is a global innovation discovery engine. Founded in 2002 and powered by a network of over 20,000 Springspotters in over 190 countries, Springwise curates and publishes the most exciting global innovations every day.
As CEO of Springwise, James has seen some pretty impressive and innovative companies and his two personal favourites are just that. “A real estate company [Suumo] understood that hermit crabs can’t find enough shells so they created shells out of potato starch for the hermit shells to live in on the beach. The shells were branded with their real estate business providing a unique marketing angle. The shells were made of potato starch so they are bio degradable and have zero impact on the environment. So what we see here is the confluence of both a business and environmental problem under highly creative conditions resulting in a brilliant solution.” It turned out to be a smart marketing campaign that additionally solved a real environmental purpose.
"Another company also created ink out of soot from car exhaust. They put something in the exhaust pipe in cars and distilled it turning it into ink thereby reusing waste and eliminating pollution [into the air and peoples lungs].”
James believes it is highly creative solutions like these to authentic, real world problems that will play a significant role in driving the innovation landscape moving forward. He also believes there is a consistent formula for successful innovation, with three components that he sees in those companies that make it, time after time.
"A real problem needs to be solved and it needs to go far beyond financial benefit. Social and environmental innovation and a genuine need for positive change are equally as important. With the age of the empowered consumer upon us, we need to continue to ask ourselves that the change we are making is making a real difference to our people and planet, not just the pockets of stakeholders. We also need to focus on how we can make workplaces more productive as employee engagement becomes critical and the workforce becomes more fluid.”
"It can’t be stressed how important it is for personal values to align to those of the company and problem being solved. Without that commitment and drive from within its very difficult to innovate as you will face continual resistance to challenging the way something is currently done.”
"The unicorns of the world [such as Uber, Air BnB and Snapchat] did not get there just because they are smarter then everyone else.” Sure smart execution is important, but people often confuse luck with talent. “Being in the right place at the right time and seizing the opportunity is incredibly important.”
"Often Springwise is a big part of the luck. Businesses that get posted on Springwise can get really good traction with media and investors.”
So what industries does James see having the biggest potential for disruption moving forward over the next 3–5 years?
"Thee retail model is fundamentally broken. Legacy retailers particular will need to reinvent themselves quickly and we are seeing huge paradigm shifts in this sector. Government also doesn’t work anymore and we see this in most countries. The way we work and live and using tech to enable how we reconcile ourselves with, for example, all the planetary issues and [aging population] issues and how we can use tech to enable and not dominate. The future of work is also very important and an exciting space to be in but we need some very powerful social innovations quickly if we are to solve some of the big inequality issues we have happening on a global scale today.”
One things for sure, it’s pretty clear that if your businesses biggest concern is maintaining fat profit margins and ignoring today’s bigger picture social, environmental and ethical issues, you might find digitally empowered customers leaving and heading somewhere where they do care.