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Innovation Transformation: Devon Skerritt, Deputy Director, Southern New Hampshire University

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"The future of the innovation industry depends on how we define that innovation industry and the breadth of innovations sought. The why behind innovation will continue to influence business creation and growth because let’s face it, businesses big and small will look for unique value propositions through sustaining, disruptive, and breakthrough innovations."

With the world and industries rapidly evolving, FEI has asked its esteemed speaking faculty what they see in their crystal ball, how they see the world transforming, and where they think innovation trends are heading and where the opportunities lie.

The next featured thought leader in our Innovation Transformation series is Devon Skerritt, Deputy Director, Design Research, Innovation Center, Southern New Hampshire University.

What do you think is the future of the innovation industry?

The future of the innovation industry depends on how we define that innovation industry and the breadth of innovations sought. The why behind innovation will continue to influence business creation and growth because let’s face it, businesses big and small will look for unique value propositions through sustaining, disruptive, and breakthrough innovations. Big companies will continue to buy value, which has come from mergers and acquisitions of technology and design firms, for example.

The who and how of innovation is subject to change, however. Organizations will continue to evolve, especially post-pandemic in how they are structured (think matrix organizations, less top-down, more cross-collaborative) impacting who innovates and where innovation is situated in an organization. Coaching will be big with so many people learning not quite enough from trainings they need to supplement learning with guidance and trusted feedback. That said, the social, economic, cultural, and political implications of innovation – the larger systemic forces in which people and businesses innovate – will also continue to drive the role of people in producing and receiving these innovations. So count me among those who see the humanities as being important to the future of the innovation industry.

What do you think is the next big think for innovators?

Simulations and immersive design hold great possibility for how innovators test and learn, and the systems or platforms designed to enable innovation. Systems and complexity thinking will be valuable to innovators. Just as we have seen the innovation emphasis shift from processes and methods of business evolution and optimization with tech, then we saw the role of design explode in the past 10-15 years, now we are seeing futures and strategic foresight integrated with design as key skills and abilities that drive innovation. Finally, facilitation is having a moment and this relates to my point about the role of coaches growing.

Innovators need to leverage those key T-shaped hard and soft skills to enable people to communicate, collaborate, and problem solve. I see this a lot in the education and ed tech industry right now, which is seeing massive influx of capital and talent to help people sustain incremental innovations while trying to achieve transformative innovations – those people need Sherpas to help guide them through processes like discovery research, ideation and prototyping, while reminding them along the way how important it is to bring the primary stakeholder, the person (not just a user), into the design process. In closing, how we innovate and co-design with authenticity, giving more agency and protecting the interests of customers and the people in the now and downstream, will be critical to gaining trust and learning with people - to serve current needs while anticipating future needs.

What are the opportunities that you’re seeing?

Every industry needs to innovate and the speed of change in our work/lives means that more people need to tap into how to think differently, even opportunistically, to survive and thrive. I work in education and clearly there is a big moment right now in reimagining learning. From how people learn and how that learning experience is validated and translated into meaningful experiences to work and live. The potential market of learners is exploding beyond what we traditionally conceive of as K-12 and a bachelor’s degree; how to identify and encourage more learners (from underserved populations especially) and adults in a lifelong learning cycle, as Michelle Weise wrote about, is driving the conversation right now.

Tangentially, with the readjustment to post-pandemic life in the US (and the differential impacts nationally and internationally), there are many opportunities to encourage and support new innovators and innovations – ideally in ways that create positive social benefit value. While experiences and services will continue post-COVID to be big opportunities (think unbundling/re-bundling services like streaming content), the breakthrough technology in science (think mRNA and biotech, renewable energy and storage) will also be big.

Finally, the future of platforms is intriguing as people look for ways to find and build community – so the social network and social media space will continue to evolve. Technology will continue playing a role, but the contexts include sustainability, equity, politics, as well as communication and community. This has impacts for journalism, social activism, and social cohesion more broadly.

Download the full whitepaper to read more about the future of innovation.

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