To let today’s solution be tomorrow’s solution too.
Humankind in the West has accomplished great things. Our knowledge is richer than ever and information is available around the world. There are walnuts from Australia in European supermarkets, and we can eat strawberries any time of the year. Technology does much of our work for us, connects us and gives everyone the opportunity to let their voice be heard. But at the same time, we’re faced with major challenges. Food safety, health care affordability, the inaccessibility of institutions, urbanisation, the depletion of natural resources — these are just a few examples of the issues Danny Mekić likes to ponder and advise on. “The world is changing profoundly. Innovate sustainably, or eventually you will lose your market.” You have been warned.
Curious to the bone. Danny Mekić is difficult to summarise briefly. He is known mostly for being an internet expert and an entrepreneur, but also takes a strong interest in law, economy and psychology. He didn’t finish high school, but has been subverting the establishment from an early age on. He has been a teacher at Campus The Hague at Leiden University and at the University of Amsterdam, has been a guest lecturer at nearly every Dutch college and university, and gets invitations weekly to be a lecturer or an expert on Dutch media. His activities earned him a mention as the ‘most successful young entrepreneur’ by the magazine Sprout in 2009, and Elsevier and Quote also included him in their lists of promising people. He travels the world to share knowledge, meet people — from CEO’s to farmers — and talk about innovation. With his NewTeam (newteam.com), he advises companies about the challenges of the future. Innovation is one of his major passions. And not just innovation to improve existing things, or to increase revenue, but to solve major world problems. Have a seat, take a moment for this.
Collaboration in complexity. For example, working for Rabobank International, Danny is investigating sustainable ways in which technology could contribute to taking on world hunger. “When I say sustainable, I don’t mean green or organic; I mean a solution that will last for 30, 40, or if possible 50 years. For this, we’re paying attention both to optimising production and to reducing the distance between the product and the consumer. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed from multiple specialisations and multiple continents. The same goes for all great innovations. We know so much now, and the world has become so complex, that even the specialists lose track of their own specialisation. To continue to progress, we will need to join our forces. Only by sharing and collaborating could we prevent making today’s solution into tomorrow’s problem.”
Closer. “I believe in the goodness of humankind,” Danny continues. “It might be a little naive of me, but I think that deep down, we want to do the right thing. Would you still buy those strawberries you find in the supermarket in December if you knew how much harm to the environment they’ve caused? Technology and innovation allow us to reduce the distance between producer and consumer, circumventing the chain — and then you can really make a change. The right information in the right place will allow the consumer to understand the consequences of their decisions and make more informed choices. And it could also let the consumer have a say in what products are available to them.”
Sharing and meeting. On a smaller scale too, sharing knowledge and working together are the key to success. Danny: “Many entrepreneurs see that their market is changing, sometimes even disappearing altogether. You’ll really need to create added value. Innovations like these are mostly born from combining markets in ways you wouldn’t normally think of. You’ll only find these combinations by meeting each other, and sharing your views and ideas. Working together, you’ll be more informed, you’ll be in a stronger position and you’ll be able to innovate faster. But sharing is about smaller things, too. Helping people, time and attention. It feels good to share, from one person to another. We need that, particularly is this increasingly complicated, digital world.”
Patenting? How do you share a brilliant idea? You wouldn’t want someone else to run off with it. Danny: “My advice: find partners who can benefit from the idea, but who can’t do it all by themselves. Make it very clear that you are the initiator. Talk to each other, flesh things out. But you stay in charge! Patenting your idea is possible, but often difficult if your idea isn’t concrete enough. Think about which option will give you the most satisfaction. By the way, if an idea is immediately met with enthusiasm by a large group of people, it’s safe to assume it was too obvious. Are they telling you you’re crazy? Then you’re likely on the right track for a real innovation.
The tables are turned. “The consequences of our technological progress are difficult to keep track of. Whatever is shared on the internet will lead a life of its own. Whether you’re the municipal administration of Amsterdam or Carla next door, your voice will be heard. An unfavourable mention in social media can have far-reaching consequences. As fleeting as social media are, you still can’t just let a post like that pass. This means companies will have to become even more customer-oriented than they might already have been. That’s particularly challenging for large, cumbersome institutions. Large institutions have grown to unmanageable proportions. Who’s responsible for what again? And we’ve ended up taking them for granted: “it’s all right, they’ll clean the streets anyway.” The individual shirks responsibility. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. And at the same time, there’s a development in the opposite direction. The individual — particularly the entrepreneur — has a tremendous world shaping power.” So we have work to do!
Danny Mekić’s tips for sharing and innovation:
- Always challenge yourself to do something that’s better than what’s already there. Contribute. Create added value. Distinguish yourself.
- Always be curious. It’ll make you into a better you.
- If everybody loves your idea right away, it’s probably too obvious. Dare to stray off the normal roads. Look for surprising combinations that don’t immediately make sense.
- Giving is more important than receiving. Give attention, share your knowledge; it doesn’t cost you anything, Open your doors!
- Share your dreams and wishes. Ask little, dream big. Even in places you wouldn’t expect the answer to come from. Sooner or later, perhaps by a detour, the solution will come to you from a direction you wouldn’t expect.