Why Innovation Relies on the Unreasonable


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"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."– George Bernard Shaw

Does the next big step in global innovation lie with the unreasonable men and women of the world?

By now, you’ve most likely heard the term cognitive surplus. You understand the concept of free worldwide brainpower waiting to be harnessed to solve business problems.

And you can probably cite some famous examples of cognitive surplus. The case of AG Lafley, who threw down a decree to source 50 per cent of P&G’s innovation from “outside.”

Or IBM’s Global Idea Jams, which continue to bring thousands of volunteer thinkers from around the world together to crack problems posited by Big Blue.

But with the blinding pace of global communication, and the unfolding complexities of a “people planet profits” world, corporations often have a difficult time even imagining what questions to ask. It seems we need to move beyond cognitive surplus, to a global grid of entrepreneurs who are asking questions we didn’t know needed asking, solving problems we didn’t realize we had, and hybridizing solutions to create incredible innovations.

Enter the Unreasonable Institute

The what? The Unreasonable Institute is, simply put, an accelerator of global next-generation thinking.

Its name was inspired by George Bernard Shaw, who believed only the unreasonable man could shape the world to his vision and drive progress.

The Institute delivers on Shaw’s vision by discovering and bringing together the most forward-thinking international social entrepreneurs every year. Then, in an intensive six-week boot camp, it accelerates their ventures, priming them to transform our planet.

In 2010 the Institute sourced entrepreneurs from over 105 partnering organizations around the world – including TED, the Aspen Institute, and MIT. Ultimately, thousands of hopefuls from over 60 countries were narrowed down to 45 finalists working on ventures in 17 countries on six continents.

Sixty mentors – from venture capitalists, to the co-founder of Google.org, to former head of brand marketing at Coca-Cola – work with these finalists to turn their early stage ventures into solid businesses. In fact, the mentors actually come to the Institute to live with the finalists, creating an atmosphere of intense collaboration.

“We think of ourselves as pathological collaborators,” says institute founder Daniel Epstein. “To date, we have partnered with over 140 organizations around the world. Through these partnerships, we are able to reach the world’s most promising, innovative, high-impact entrepreneurs.”

It seems the Unreasonable Institute would be an incredible resource for any company. Which is quite possibly why HP signed on as the Institute’s primary corporate partner.

Could this become HP’s unreasonable advantage?

HP VP Wayne Surdam sees a clear connection between the Unreasonable Institute and his own company.

“We started as an entrepreneurial company, and we’ve never strayed from our roots. We want to be inspired by these entrepreneurs – not only by their ideas, but also by their attitudes toward making the world a better place.”

But the advantage to HP is more than inspiration. The Institute provides a wellspring of innovation thinking, and new business models that address both recognized issues and emerging global problems. In short, it could become a hotline to new intelligence in developing markets.

As Surdam says, “This year, our goal is […] to create an unprecedented level of global exposure to – and engagement with – these ventures. To reach global audiences, we need global partnerships.”

Where is your global innovation?

Most large companies know they need to reach new markets, but are baffled by emerging market dynamics. As Epstein says, “Entrepreneurs are the rare few who are undeterred by these challenges and are blindly determined to meet the needs of the four billion people who sit at the base of our world’s economic pyramid. They are spearheading a campaign that will unleash the potential of the largest emerging market in the history of humankind.”

Although still in its early days, HP’s partnership with the Institute will certainly lead to a wealth of insights and innovations. It’s precisely this sort of hybrid partnership that leads to new thinking that drives business forward.

So, is your innovation thinking outside the box and outside your border? Will you be able to match the idea generation incubated by partnerships like HP and Unreasonable?

Or do you belong to the perfectly reasonable companies that will find themselves left behind in the global market?

This article was originally published on Fast Company.

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