Under a light blue sky, the Global Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of Peking University has opened its doors to Xinnovation Fair 2017. The rich schedule – which features promising start-ups, dynamic presentations, innovative projects – has created a vibrant and energetic atmosphere, allowing delegates and visitors to “venture into the future” and “explore sustainability”.
But what do people here think of “innovation”? And ultimately, what is “innovation”?
“Innovation means ideas. It’s a driving force for myself, my country and the world’s development”, a Chinese visitor says, and he’s surely not the only one to think in these terms. In the words of a Brazilian delegate, innovation is “essentially something that can push society forward. My field is sociology and I’m particularly interested in the way new technologies can help tackle social issues”.
Social impact seems to be one of the main key-words for many. “What makes innovation worthwhile is not much its intrinsic component of originality and creativity, but rather its capability to address everyday problems. Achieving social justice should be one of the main goals of innovation.” observes a start-up manager. “Minimizing the required input and maximizing the social output seems to be the golden formula for innovative projects”, another start-up founder says.
But when we try to develop an innovative project in a market-driven society, how can we actually find the right balance between the crucial need for investments and the ultimate social goal? A visitor’s comment can help us shed light on this complex matter. “I don’t think that true innovation requires huge initial investments. Creativity should be directed towards finding a way to rearrange pre-existing sources in a new and helpful way. Also, I dare say that the biggest challenge is not to come up with original ideas, but to make them happen in a sustainable way.” Similarly, an Indian delegate thoughtfully observes “If I had to find a visual representation of something truly innovative, I’d think of one of those suspended ropes that allow children in disadvantaged areas to cross a river and reach the school. It’s not safe, it’s far from perfect and it should be improved, but at least it surely provides a concrete tool to overcome an urgent issue. The spirit of entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily equal the spirit of true and meaningful innovation as I intend it.”
An American delegate adds that “usually innovation is associated with creative thinking and risk taking, which are essentially capitalist concepts. In a society where “the survival of the fittest” seems to be only functioning self-governing mechanism, it is not a case that military intelligence has often paved the way to the introduction of new technologies, from the internet to today’s drones. I’d say that critical thinking is today’s most precious and sought-after innovation, and the only one that can truly lead to change in better”.