Moonshots and Systems Change

Having been involved in a series conversations across advanced economies in Europe, India and U.S. over the course of the last year and the recent Dream Commitment in Norway with Innovation Norway, Difi and Husbanken, one reality has begun to stand out….

We, increasingly are beginning to understand the power of system innovation and its capacity to unlock catalytic change, address complex challenges by intervening across a systems as opposed to through the discrete impact of a single agency, product or service.

This emergent world view sees — system innovation = invention at a systems scale + investment & viability at a systems scale.

Where “System Invention” focuses on — 1. a network of leverage-able intervention points across a system & its context which drive an outcome, 2. a network of system behaviours, architectures —i.e shared language, data, metrics and feedback mechanisms which can drive the optimisation of a system 3. building a shared consciousness of interdependency across a systems and its actors and institutions.

Where “Systems level Investment”— focuses us to look for financial viability across a virtuous ecosystem of products, services and interventions — as opposed to expecting them all to be individually self sustaining and viable.

But what makes this innovation & change model unique is not in many ways the systems approach per say; we have in many ways forever invested with this approach [albeit less data, evidence, complexity etc ]— it is the openness of the systems we are starting to invest into — i.e “systems in the wild”. This strategy has always been used by corporates and institutions on the inside and in their supply chains — the real innovation is how we work in and on open and “in the wild” systems — which do not benefit from a financial & power autocratic boundary of a corporate or institutional body.

Whilst this approach looks increasingly relevant to addressing wicked challenges — it does begin to herald a critical question.

Will our models, practices, accelerators and architectures of system change get us to Mars [be moonshots] or are they systemically designed to sustain, conserve and mitigate the perceived liabilities of today; to effectively help us find our place in the dirt?

Therefore, does system change carry a structural risk of being limited by a group think/do; where change is limited to an incremental evolutionary change — focused passively on conserving, sustaining, mitigating liabilities and/or addressing market failure fixes (with of course system leverage benefits).

Maybe, just maybe this level of change is not sufficient to address the scale of challenges we face as a global civilisation. Incrementalism even if levered by systems innovation is not going to drive us to overcome the technological, cultural, governance, emotional and organisational leaps necessary.

Therefore, maybe — system change focused innovation needs to co-ordinated with a disruptive redefinition of interventional capital from the late 20th century doctrine of market failure fix; where interventional capital become a subservient actor /tinker/fixer to the market system.

What is required is Dream or Mission capital focused also on the massive systemic missions — the missions which seek to put Humanity in the stars as opposed to the just optimising our place in the dirt...

Imagine if we coincided the emerging system approach to innovation with dream capital focused on:

1. Creating a civilisation where the first humans live well for 200 years +

2. Creating a civilisation where a majority of humans alive had 200+ EQ and IQ etc..

3. Creating a civilisation which only produced a total waste of 200 metric tonnes.

4. Creating a civilisation where the first humans are able to scale empathy to match our logistical reach.

Let’s start to Imagine again!

For without unleashing our imagination and our dream capital — system change will merely help us find our place in the dirt not our place in the stars and heavens ( to paraphrase Cooper from Interstellar….)

We cannot imagine the architecture of system change without the necessary organisation of Mission, Dream & Dare Capital.

PS This topic and need to unleash Mission Capital has been brilliantly conceived, handled and imagined by the brilliant Mariana Mazzucato

Indy Johar