Preface – The Future of Innovation: An Evolutionary Perspective

Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.”  – Richard Dawkins

“The beauty of artifacts is in how they reassure us we’re not the first to die.” – Simon Van Booy

We humans, conscious and willful as we are, are merely the mechanism whereby the artifacts we create survive. Innovation can be understood using an evolutionary paradigm in which humans are the force of mutation and recombination that creates new artifacts. We are the agents that mutate and recombine the ‘genes’ of technology from which artifacts are constructed.

In addition, humans are the environment in which the fitness of new artifacts is determined. We act as agents of adoption, creating the individual and social environment of demand that determines the ‘fitness’ of artifacts.

Using this evolutionary perspective, the future of innovation will be determined by:

  1. Organizations (design ecosystems) that create ‘fit’ artifacts through mutation (creation of new) and recombination (organization of existing) of design elements. Design ecosystems evolve as organizations that are more effective at mutation, recombination and testing fitness emerge.
  2. Individuals, communities, and societies (i.e. demand ecosystems) that are adept at determining the fitness of new artifacts. Demand ecosystems evolve as individuals and communities of adoption constantly change what is fit and how fitness is determined.
  3. The innovator’s ability to manage the recursive feedback dynamics of the two complex systems of design and demand will determine how rapidly artifacts evolve. The number, variability and frequency of artifacts introduced increases and they quickly die or thrive

 Our artifacts not only deal with us and assist us in innovating; they increasingly deal with each other and innovate on their own
The complex, recursive system that is innovation results from interaction between human centered design and human driven demand. Humans are ill-equipped to deal with the accelerating volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) of the dynamic systems we create and the increasing pace of artifact evolution. Human evolution has burdened us with multiple deficiencies – confirmation bias, poor memories, availability heuristic etc. – that impede our ability to deal with the VUCA world of our own making. As a result, we cannot rely on our own species evolution to overcome these deficits. We must, instead, rely on the evolution of our artifacts. We create artifacts that mitigate our deficiencies and become the intelligent collaborators that will drive innovation in the future.

Humans have evolved the desire to innovate. This desire leads us to constantly create better means of innovating, from our tools to our organizations.  As these means of innovating get better, the world moves faster and humans alone are unable to keep up. We increasingly rely on artifacts to help us and we become increasingly symbiotic with them. Our artifacts not only deal with us and assist us in innovating; they increasingly deal with each other and innovate on their own. The ‘soft’ human holds hands with the ‘hard’ machine to advance both the artifact creation and the artifact consumption experience.

This future of innovation will be a reality of our own making and we will adapt to it as we have adapted to all of the ways we have innovated, and the innovations that have resulted, in the past. Once we acknowledge ourselves as agents in the self-perpetuating system of innovation we then realize that we are what our artifacts want.

The future of innovation is a topic of intense interest to those innovation practitioners researching, developing and deploying innovation systems that companies use to do innovation. This future is explored in the following articles:

  1. Introduction – Innovation’s Trajectory
  2. It’s a Fast VUCA World – The Trends and Forces Shaping Innovation
  3. The Minds of New Machines – What Artifacts Want
  4. From Menlo Park to Paramount Pictures – Our Organizations Evolve
  5. Post-millennial Demands – Our Individual and Collective Selves Embrace
  6. An Emergent Innovation Framework – The Complexity of Creation
  7. A Day-in-the-life of Psy

The plausible futures and insights presented in these articles are based on applying the same future insights process that is used to help companies examine their own plausible futures. Here, it has been turned inward to look at how the practice of innovation will look 10 years from now. The result is a view of the future of innovation that provides both strategic and tactical perspectives to the innovation practitioner as they advance the state of the art. The unique perspective on the future of the practice of innovation that emerges is not all about future technologies, big and small trends, or the ‘should do’ or ‘could do’ that so much is written about. Instead. the focus on how we, as ‘innovators’, distinct from inventors, designers, marketers, business people or entrepreneurs, will do our job in the future.

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