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A view from the Horizon – values in sustainability

Posted on 08/11/2016

Certain professions though, medicine and law for instance, have very clear value frameworks. For other professionals, values may not be so clear.

When we go to work, what are the values that drive our actions? Are they our personal ones or something else?

I was struck last week by two unrelated news items which appeared side by side. The first was an impassioned speech delivered by actor Michael Sheen at a local South Wales NHS rally. The second was the obituary of veteran actor Leonard Nimoy.

Their professions aside, there was no particular connection between them, except both men are celebrated for the characters they have portrayed: Sheen for his chameleon-like transformation into Tony Blair; Nimoy, for the Star Trek scientist, Dr Spock. One started his screen life in the popular consciousness being presented as cold, and almost aloof, devoid of compassion, for the plight of the humans around him. The other arguably ended up in this position.

We know their characters better than we know them. So seeing Sheen rail against the dismantling of the NHS, inciting the rage felt by Nye Bevan against the Tories’ disregard for the poor, seemed rather at odds with him as Blair, the silver-tongued politician we watched negotiating further competition into the health service. I have no idea what Nimoy personally believed in or stood for but I could recognise his character, Spock’s, unswerving Vulcan logic in the face of Kirk’s emotive ‘irrationality’.

Between their professional and private lives, both men needed to convince us of their characters’ values which drove and justified their actions towards realising a particular future. Of course, that distinguishes a great actor, especially when those assumed values are far removed from their personal ones.

When we go to work, what are the values that drive our actions? Are they our personal ones or something else? We are not actors, probably, and are not expected to bend our personal values so dramatically.

Certain professions though, medicine and law for instance, have very clear value frameworks. For other professionals, values may not be so clear. It becomes more of a challenge when working across sectors and industries, just as the Knowledge Transfer Network does, to accelerate ‘technology-enabled’ innovation in the UK economy. Innovation in itself is a powerful determinant of the future. We have organisational values which inform us how to conduct our business, but to use these intelligently, we need to know what we are accelerating towards, or in other words what sort of future do we want to help shape through innovation.

 

When we go to work, what are the values that drive our actions? Are they our personal ones or something else? We are not actors, probably, and are not expected to bend our personal values so dramatically.

Certain professions though, medicine and law for instance, have very clear value frameworks. For other professionals, values may not be so clear. It becomes more of a challenge when working across sectors and industries, just as the Knowledge Transfer Network does, to accelerate ‘technology-enabled’ innovation in the UK economy. Innovation in itself is a powerful determinant of the future. We have organisational values which inform us how to conduct our business, but to use these intelligently, we need to know what we are accelerating towards, or in other words what sort of future do we want to help shape through innovation.

We use Horizons, an online tool for strategic decision-making, developed by Innovate UK and Forum for the Future, to help define what we are ultimately aiming for: a sustainable economy. The world faces major issues such as climate change, limited natural resources, and rapid urbanisation. The need for transition to a more sustainable economy is creating global market opportunities for entirely new solutions. With a projected 9bn people living on the planet, it is our responsibility to ensure that innovation has the potential to meet everyone’s need for happy, fulfilled lives.

Horizons represents the social and environmental drivers of a sustainable economy, in other words an economy that delivers social value and operates within safe environmental limits. Generating extrinsic social or environmental value is a key way of sustaining innovation because people are motivated by the broader changes that it can herald. And innovation is most effective when it catalyses other changes across society and culture which together create entirely new ways of doing things.

Horizons is useful because it fills in the blind spots. It is not prescriptive but it prompts thinking about the things that may not seem immediately relevant to a particular innovation. For instance, it poses questions about the types of products and services, even behaviours, we want to shape through investing our time and effort in specific innovations. These factors then can be used as a checklist and tool to stimulate thinking when developing innovation projects.

If we ignore the questions it raises, we are less effective in realising the very conditions in which we want to live and work. We needn’t be doctrinal about the values but we can use Horizons to advise innovators and help create a desirable future for people and planet.

 

Dr Edward Hobson – Knowledge Transfer Manager, Design