when innovators become our idols-Bob Hutchins

When Innovators become our idols…

In a recent article, Professor Scott Galloway of NYU, wrote, “The “idolatry of innovators,” leads to the misguided notion that people (usually men) of great achievement (usually in tech) should not be criticized, are not bound by a code of ethics, and are above the law. This is bad for society and, eventually, for the innovators themselves. Constraints are essential to enduring innovation. Corruption and economic growth are inversely correlated. Resistance builds strength and a level playing field rewards talent vs. cronyism. Humans operate poorly in the absence of limits/structure and given free rein, we lean into narcissism and dissipation.”

An exciting and simultaneous concerning trend has come out of the tech and innovation sector over the past 10 to 15 years. On the one hand, we have seen some of the most incredible technological advances and human achievements. But on the other hand, there seems to be a growing trend of idolizing innovators and those who create these new technologies.

No doubt, world-changing innovation comes at a cost, and those who are brave enough to venture into the unknown deserve our respect. But there is a line that should not be crossed, where these innovators become idolized and above criticism.

In order to truly innovate and create lasting change, there must be a balance of creativity and constraint. Too much of either one will lead to problems. As Galloway points out, “Constraints are essential to enduring innovation.” Without constraints, we tend to lean into narcissism and self-indulgence. And on the other hand, too much constraint can stifle creativity and prevent new ideas from taking root.

It is essential that we find a balance between these two extremes, in order to create an environment that is conducive to innovation. And part of that is making sure that those who are innovators are held accountable to the same standards as everyone else. In the past decade and a half, we have seen examples of market manipulation, fraud, and other unethical practices from some of the most well-known and respected companies in the world. While it is understandable that these companies push the envelope in order to gain a competitive advantage, there must be a limit to what is acceptable.

Why am I writing about this, and why do I think it really matters?

Because we are at a pivotal time in human history, and there are several paradigm shifts taking place. I believe it is imperative that our innovations, and the leaders that guide us through them, be focused on making the world a better place for everyone involved.

Professor Galloway goes on to say, “Since Steve Jobs, the gestalt in tech is that a talented, nice CEO … is talented. A talented CEO who is unreasonable is a genius. The powerful skirt guardrails, and remove them altogether with enablers. For enablers, criticism of the leader, no matter how justified, feels like criticism of the followers who’ve accepted his behavior. Shamelessness becomes the leader’s superpower.”

We are at a fork in the road, and it is up to us to decide which path to take. We must do better.

There are three specific areas of innovation that I think are critical to this discussion.

  1. Healthcare and Mental Health. We need leaders and innovators that are focused on making healthcare and mental health solutions more accessible and affordable for everyone. This must come from a place of empathy and concern, not just profit.
  2. Education. We need to find better ways to educate our children and to provide opportunities for lifelong learning. With the rapid pace of change, it is becoming more and more difficult for people to keep up. We must find new ways to provide educational opportunities that are flexible and adaptable. Innovators in this arena must be creative, curious, and empathetic to the leaders, teachers, and students of the world.
  3. The Environment. From electric vehicles, solar power, and wind energy, to new ways of managing our waste and reducing our carbon footprint, we need innovators who are focused on finding sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges we face. These innovators must have a deep respect for the planet and all of its inhabitants.

Lest you think I am missing the fair market issues and the problems caused by crony capitalism, I am not. But those are different topics for different days.

The bottom line is this: We need to do better. We need to demand more from our innovators. We need leaders who are focused on making the world a better place for all of us, not just themselves. We need to find a balance between constraint and freedom so that our creativity can flourish and we can continue to innovate in ways that make the world a better place for all.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Bob Hutchins

Bob Hutchins

Cultural Interpreter, Media Psychology and Media Ecology, The Human Voice Podcast, Author